First-Gen Students Less Likely to Access Rigorous Coursework in High School

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The challenges faced by first-generation college students are well-documented, and according to new data, some of those hurdles begin to crop up in high school.

A research brief from the National Center for Education Statistics found that students whose parents did not go to college were less likely to enroll in challenging high school courses than their peers.

For instance, just 18 percent of prospective first-generation college students earned AP or IB credits while in high school. Forty-four percent of children with degree-holding parents met that benchmark.

More troubling, only 16 percent of first-gen students completed “an academically focused curriculum” — a term used to describe a college prep pathway that includes higher-level math and science courses and at least two years of a foreign language.

The data supports the need for all high schools to offer rigorous courses and academic counseling to their students — two goals supported by NACAC. Oftentimes, first-generation students attend under-resourced schools, making it difficult for them to access college prep courses.

“Despite evidence of the importance of a strong curriculum, inequities in access to high-level coursework persist across socioeconomic lines,” a NACAC policy paper on the issue notes. “Low-income students are more likely to attend underfunded and under-resourced schools that do not offer advanced coursework. Increasing equitable access to rigorous curricula will help more underserved students graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary success.”

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at

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