The Role of Institutional Context in Promoting the Success of First-Generation College Students

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The Role of Institutional Context in Promoting the Success of First-Generation College Students

Project Leads

Sara Goldrick-Rab (BIO)

Associate Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Senior Scholar, WISCAPE
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Justin Ronca

Project Assistant, WISCAPE
University of Wisconsin-Madison


The motivation behind this study is to find out how to increase the college-completion rates of students whose parents did not attend college (first-generation college students) in order to enhance inter-generational transmission of educational advantage.

Keeping this ultimate goal in mind, the two purposes of this study are to 1) find out what institutional characteristics at colleges and universities affect the success of first-generation college students, and 2) determine whether a “match” between student academic ability and college quality has a causal effect on college success for first-generation students.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, assistant professor of educational policy studies and WISCAPE scholar, will serve as principal investigator for this study. She will be assisted by WISCAPE Project Assistant Justin Ronca.

Using student data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) and institutional data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the researchers will examine two different groups of first generation students (those whose parents only finished high school and those whose parents went to college but did not complete a degree).  Specifically, they will look at the effects of institutional characteristics and “academic match,” as measured by comparing individual and average institutional test scores, on first-year retention and degree completion for these students.

Related Papers and Presentations

  • Goldrick-Rab, S. & Ronca, J. (June 2007). Institutional Characteristics that Promote the Success of First-Generation College Students. Presented at the 24th Annual Financial Aid Research Network Conference in Portland, Ore.
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