Despite Aspirations, Majority of First-Generation College Students are Not Academically Prepared for College Coursework

Posted November 04, 2013

ACT and COE Report Examines the College and Career Readiness of Students Whose Parents Did Not Receive Postsecondary Education

IOWA CITY, Iowa—Most first-generation college students want to attend a postsecondary institution, but the majority are not ready to succeed in key courses when they get there, according to a new report released today by ACT and the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE).

The report, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: First-Generation Students, shows that 52 percent of first-generation 2013 high school graduates who took the ACT® college readiness assessment met none of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. That compares to 31 percent of all ACT-tested graduates who met none of the benchmarks. First-generation students are defined as those whose parents did not receive any postsecondary education.

Conversely, only 9 percent of first-generation students met all four of ACT’s benchmarks, compared to 26 percent of all ACT-tested graduates who met all four benchmarks.

“We knew that first-generation students can face significant obstacles when navigating the college search and enrollment process,” said Scott Montgomery, ACT vice president of policy, advocacy and government relations. “Our report reveals that even after they take the recommended steps to be prepared academically, many face major hurdles in succeeding in college.”

Almost all first-generation students want to further their education after high school, with 94 percent reporting that they aspire to earn a postsecondary degree. In addition, two-thirds completed ACT’s recommended core curriculum, which comprises four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies.

“This joint report confirms our understanding that first-generation student success requires the coordinated efforts of many people in the TRIO and college access community who have designed a context for services and daily guide their students to enter college and thrive,” said Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education.

The research-based ACT College Readiness Benchmarks specify the minimum scores students must earn on each of ACT’s four subject tests (English, math, reading, and science) to have about a 75 percent chance of earning a grade of C or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in the corresponding  subject area. ACT research suggests that students who meet the Benchmarks are more likely than those who do not to persist in college and earn a degree.

The ACT-COE report uses data from the approximately 1.8 million ACT-tested 2013 high school graduates. During ACT registration, students are asked to provide information about parental education, high school course taking and postsecondary aspirations. Students who reported that neither their mother nor father attended any type of postsecondary training were classified as first-generation students for the analysis in this report.