Understanding Students' Parental Education beyond First-Generation Status

Article excerpt

The goal of this study is to explore and compare the experiences and views that community college students face across multiple levels of parental education. The findings demonstrate significant differences across five different parental education levels, arguing that future research ought to expand current notions of parental education beyond a binary comparison (having a college educated parent or not).

Introduction

The goal of this study is to explore and compare the experiences and views that community college students face across multiple levels of parental education. The vast majority of research on this topic, however, has focused on the dichotomous perspective of first-generation versus non-first-generation students. Past studies have well demonstrated that first-generation college students--students who do not have a parent who went to college--often encounter major hurdles in the college process. In comparison to students whose parent(s) attended college, first-generation students experience greater challenges to college access (Choy, Horn, Nunez & Chen, 2000; Education Resources Institute and the Institute for Higher Education Policy, 1997), college involvement (Astin, 1984), institutional connectedness (Arredondo, 1999; Astin, 1984; Terenzini et al., 1994), academic and social integration (Tinto, 1987, 1993), and degree completion (Nunez, & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). As such, first-generation students may be especially susceptible to personal doubts regarding their academic and motivational ability (Mitchell, 1997; Rendon, 1995; Terenzini et al., 1994).

While the barriers are well documented, the reasons for such obstacles are less evident. Some research indicates that first-generation students lack support from family and friends and are academically less prepared for college (Education Resources Institute and the Institute for Higher Education Policy, 1997). Other related factors often associated with first-generation status include minority status (Brown & Burkhardt, 1999; Philippe & Valiga, 2000) and low-income status (Brown & Burkhardt, 1999). These combined factors have been examined as negatively contributing to students' educational aspirations, academic achievement, and academic integration.

While studies have identified the inequities and their possible sources for first-generation students, few studies have examined this group beyond the simple distinction of first-generation status. In fact, very little is known about how student characteristics vary across different levels of parental education (e.g., junior high school, high school, etc.). Therefore, this study seeks to understand how student views and experiences differ by generational status. This study attempts not only to broaden current views of the important role of parental education but also to delve beyond the flat dichotomous perspective (parents having attended college or not) or linear continuum.

Effects of Parental Education

The extant literature identifies socioeconomic status (SES) as a predictor of lowered academic success. This link between parental education and SES has been loosely applied to explain why first-generation students are less successful in attending and succeeding in college (Cabrera & La Nasa, 2001; Hossler & Stage, 1999). In other words, first-generation status places students at a unique disadvantage when it comes to college success (Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998).

Parental involvement may be directly associated with the information that parents have about college. Parents with firsthand knowledge of postsecondary education may provide their children with better access to information about college, such as course requirements (Choy et al., 2000; McDonough, 1997), and they may know how to acquire the means to finance their children's college education (McDonough, 1997). College-educated parents are typically more aware of the long-term benefits of acquiring a college degree, and thus they share this information with their children (Coleman, 1988). …