Panel Paper: Predictors of First-Generation Students’ Postsecondary Outcomes in Tennessee

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 14 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ela Joshi, Vanderbilt University

It is well-documented that first-generation students face numerous obstacles in completing a postsecondary degree. First-generation students are often less resourced than their non-first-generation peers in terms of access to social, informational, and cultural capital around college-going, financial and educational resources, and educational opportunities (Atherton, 2014; Furquim, Glasener, Oster, McCall, & DesJardins, 2017; Engle, 2007; Stephens, Fryberg, Markus, Johnson, & Covarrubias, 2012; Wildhagen, 2015). A number of studies have linked the obstacles first-generation students face to accessing and navigating college to lower college GPAs, lower rates of persistence, and greater drop-out rates (D’Amico & Dika, 2013; Martinez, Sher, Krull, & Wood, 2009).

In 2015, Tennessee initiated the Tennessee Promise (TN Promise), a financial aid program providing a last-dollar scholarship for eligible high school students to attend any Tennessee community or technical college tuition-free along with providing one-on-one mentorship to help students navigate the college process (Tennessee Higher Education Commission, 2018b). Due to the financial, social, and cultural supports the program creates and provides, TN Promise is well-positioned to influence the educational trajectories of students in the state for whom college access may be challenging. Importantly, since close to half of TN Promise scholars are first-generation students (Tennessee Higher Education Commission, 2018a), it is crucial to understand student outcomes resulting from this statewide program, as well opportunities to provide additional supports to first-generation college students.

TN Promise may reduce or remove barriers to access and postsecondary success for first-generation students in some of the following ways:

  • Reducing financial costs of attending college
  • Providing students with mentoring to navigate college application process
  • Reducing opportunity costs of obtaining information about college

This paper aims to take a comprehensive look at the recent landscape of the first-generation college students enrolled in public institutions of higher education in Tennessee. This study asks:

  1. How do first-generation college students compare to non-first-generation college students in terms of their demographic characteristics, financial resources, and short-term postsecondary outcomes?
  2. Are there differences in the predictors of postsecondary outcomes based on first-generation status?
  3. Are there differences in these predictors for first-generation and non-first-generation students’ before and after the initiation of the TN Promise?

This study draws from a rich longitudinal dataset containing information on students’ demographic characteristics, financial resources, academic preparedness, and postsecondary enrollment and uses multivariate linear probability models to measure the relationship between first-generation status and students’ postsecondary outcomes. Preliminary findings suggest that that first-generation students differ from their non-first-generation peers in terms their academic preparedness and financial resources. When accounting for these differences, first-generation students differ in terms of type of institution attended and credits attempted and earned. Additionally, some shifts in the differences in the marginal effects of predictors on postsecondary outcomes were observed following the initiation of the TN Promise. Taken together, these early results suggest that first-generation students differ from their non-first-generation peers in terms of how they experience and navigate postsecondary institutions.