An Untapped Resource for Increasing College Attainment

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An Untapped Resource for Increasing College Attainment: Estimating the Population of Potential First-Generation Students in Wisconsin


Sara Lazenby

Associate Policy and Planning Analyst, Academic Planning and Institutional Research
University of Wisconsin-Madison


Despite the increased focus on improving college access among first-generation students (students whose parents did not attend or complete college) in Wisconsin, there has been no estimate of the number of students who live in households where no parent or guardian holds a bachelor’s degree. Consequently, stakeholders have identified the population that should receive targeted resources, but they have no estimate of the number of students they are trying to help, and lack of knowledge of the size and characteristics of this population makes it difficult to measure success or improvement in college access and completion. Different strategies for improving attendance and completion rates may work for different populations of students, and resources can be used more effectively and efficiently in light of proper background knowledge.

To aid in such efforts, presented here is a method for gauging the size and characteristics of the population of potential first-generation students in Wisconsin. Specifically, the method uses existing data to estimate the number of pre-college teens in the state and then groups them by parental education levels. Furthermore, the method produces estimates of the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of this population. The description of the method is followed by implications and recommendations for educational policymakers and practitioners in Wisconsin.


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