College Degrees Less Beneficial for First-Generation Grads

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

First-generation college graduates have more trouble finding jobs and earn substantially less than their classmates whose parents also finished college, according to a September 24, 2021 article for the Hechinger Report by Jon Marcus. A study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Minnesota found that, despite comparable credentials, first-generation graduates have more trouble getting jobs than their better-coached and -connected classmates, Marcus reported. The study suggested that differences might be due to first-generation students being less knowledgeable about job search requirements, or having had less parental encouragement to get involved in college internships, study abroad programs, and extracurricular activities. Employers may also discriminate, consciously or unconsciously, against first-generation students, according to another study cited by Marcus.

The Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened these disparities. According to a survey conducted by a consortium of research universities, first-generation students have faced “greater financial and family strains during the pandemic and were more likely to have lost on- or off-campus wages than their counterparts who aren’t first-generation.” This study also found that, with the shift to online instruction, first-generation students were more likely to lack adequate study spaces or necessary technology, compared with continuing-generation students.

A May 2021 report by the Pew Research Center corroborates many of the points made by the Hechinger Report article. The Pew study analyzed data from two major surveys conducted by the Federal Reserve to determine that first-generation college graduates “are not on equal footing with their peers who have college-educated parents.” Instead, college graduates whose parents also had at least a bachelor’s degree have “substantially higher incomes and more wealth than those who are the first-generation in their family to graduate from college.” The Pew study found that median income for households headed by a first-generation college graduate ($99,600) is substantially lower than the income for households headed by a second-generation graduate ($135,800).

The Hechinger Report noted that “a very small number of colleges and universities” are now adding programs to address the unique challenges that first-generation students face in finding jobs after graduation. For instance, Marcus reported that the University of California, Berkeley,  provides career counseling, including resume reviews, specifically for first-generation students while California State University, Fullerton’s “I Am First” program partners current first-generation students with working first-generation graduates who serve as mentors. The program teaches salary negotiation and other relevant job-finding skills.

As of November 2021, corporate news outlets do not appear to have covered the specific challenges faced by first-generation college graduates in the job market.

Source: Jon Marcus, “College Degree Doesn’t Pay Off as Well for First-Generation Grads,” The Hechinger Report, September 24, 2021; co-published as “First-Generation College Grads Face More Hurdles in the Job Market,” Wired, September 24, 2021.

Student Researchers: Bridget Burke, Kelly O’Leary, and Emily Seawell (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)