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Understanding How First-Generation Students Can Have More Favorable Career Outcomes

According to the Center for First-generation Student Success, one of the most frequently asked questions it receives from its members, student affairs practitioners, and higher education institutions is, “How can we improve first-generation students’ college-to-career outcomes?” Studies show that first-generation college graduates earn substantially less than their undergraduate peers whose parents attended college. This research also shows that the industries, jobs, and work locations that students enter impact the wage gap significantly. The volume of inquiries indicates an urgency among higher education practitioners to understand and improve upon current outcomes.

While research exists on first-generation students’ academic performance, not enough research has been conducted on first-generation student’s career preparation in college and how this affects their post-degree outcomes. As the premier producer of scholarly research on first-generation student completion and as a convener of higher education practitioners focused on first-generation student success, the Center has partnered with the Crimsonbridge Foundation to close that research gap with assistance from RTI International.

Through this partnership, the Center produced four fact sheets that assess indicators directly connected with career outcomes for first-generation students: utilizing career planning services, participating in extracurricular and co-curricular activities, enrolling in graduate school, and post-graduation employment and finances. In addition, the fact sheets compare first-generation students’ outcomes with those of their continuing-generation peers (the Center defines a continuing-generation college student as an individual who has at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree or higher). Crimsonbridge hopes that higher education staff, faculty, and leadership will use these statistics to shape their practices, policies, and programming to ensure first-generation students succeed long after graduation.

On June 29, Crimsonbridge Foundation Program Officer Robyn Attebury Ellis moderated a panel discussion on “College to Career: Journeys of First-generation Students,” at the 2021 NASPA Virtual Conference on Student Success in Higher Education. The panel featured experts on first-generation college-to-career initiatives and activities from national and institutional perspectives. They discussed the research findings and their implications for practitioners. To complement these fact sheets, the Center will release an issue brief with actionable recommendations practitioners can implement.

Ensuring first-generation students have the support they need to thrive in college, graduate, and lead meaningful careers afterward directly translates to many short- and long-term opportunities for students, families, communities, and the national economy. First-generation students contribute their ideas, expertise, and diverse perspectives in college, which benefit the schools they attend. In turn, institutions and workplaces can respond to their contributions with inclusive support systems and career development opportunities that help them thrive and achieve their goals. The Center for First-generation Student Success continues to facilitate essential connections with practitioners and funders, produce new research and national benchmarks, and build capacity for America’s 20 million college students.

The Crimsonbridge Foundation’s partnership with The Center for First-generation Student Success is the latest in the Foundation’s growing body of work in College Success. “As a country, we have to improve upon the supports needed to help students earn their degrees and begin gainful careers.” Says Crimsonbridge President and CEO Danielle M. Reyes. “If we do this, we will vastly increase the number of students completing college.” Crimsonbridge is working with nonprofits, high schools, community colleges, universities, and research organizations to help solve this problem.


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