Assessing the Potential Pool of First-Generation Students in Wisconsin

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Assessing the Potential Pool of First-Generation Students in Wisconsin

Project Lead

Sara Lazenby

Associate Policy and Planning Analyst
Office of Academic Planning and Analysis
University of Wisconsin-Madison


Previous research on first-generation students shows they are disadvantaged in terms of college access, are more likely to be minority students, and have a lower family income than their peers whose parents completed college. They are also more likely to leave college without obtaining a degree and less likely to have obtained a bachelor’s degree, which has a lasting economic impact on the state, including lower earnings and a less-educated workforce to attract employers.

While all University of Wisconsin System campuses are now collecting and reporting information on first-generation students who enroll, there is currently no reliable estimate of the number of potential first-generation college students in the state of Wisconsin; therefore, there is currently no way to estimate how effective UW System schools are in reaching first-generation students.

This study aims to create a set of estimates to identiy the size and socioeconomic characteristics of Wisconsin’s pool of potential first-generation students, compare this group to the state's pool of potential continuing generation students, and then use this information to order to better evaluate first-generation recruitment and admissions efforts.

Specifically, this study seeks to answer the following questions:

  • How large is the potential pool of first-generation college students in Wisconsin?
  • How many students are going to be entering the potential pool in the next several years?
  • What are the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of these potential students?
  • How do these characteristics compare to the characteristics of students in the potential pool of continuing-generation college students?
  • How do the first-generation applicants and students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison compare to the potential pool of first-generation college students statewide?
  • Are the differences between these two groups similar to the differences between continuing-generation applicants and students at UW-Madison and the potential pool of continuing-generation college students statewide?

While this study will focus on UW-Madison, the researchers envision other UW System institutions using these estimates to evaluate their own recruitment and retention efforts. The study's findings could also be used in the implementation of any needed policy innovations or changes.

Sara Lazenby, assistant researcher at the Applied Population Laboratory (APL) in the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Rural Sociology, will direct the study under the supervision of APL Director Dan Veroff, who will act as principal investigator.

Sara Goldrick-Rab
, assistant professor of educational policy studies and sociology and WISCAPE Scholar, will serve as a consultant.

WISCAPE is providing substantial funding to cover all staffing, supplies, services, travel, and conference costs.

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