First Generation to College

Regardless of whether they are the target audience, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce development projects/programs will include a number of students who are the first in their family to attend college. These “first-generation to college” students may come to college with limited knowledge of the mores and folkways of college -- the language, traditions, and expected behaviors -- thus their needs may be quite different than other students, leading to different project/program impact. In the data collection, evaluators should ask if students are the first in their families to go to college and include questions that might reflect their experiences, including such areas as academic culture shock and balancing work and college studies with family responsibilities.1

While first generation to college students are not a homogeneous group, they are more apt to be from lower income families and/or from families that are relatively recent immigrants. However, not all students who are from lower income families or from families who are recent immigrants are first generation to college students and not all first generation to college students come from these backgrounds. These and other variables, including gender, race, and ethnicity, as appropriate, need to be included in the data analysis.

Students, who are in programs that provide them with financial support, may feel indebted to the program and fear if they do not participate in the evaluation or if they raise concerns, it could affect their participation in the program. This could affect whether their participation in the evaluation is truly voluntary and that their responses are free from pressure. Evaluators should explain the goals of the evaluation, the role of the external evaluator, and the steps that will be taken to ensure confidentiality to the student. Students should also be made aware of any impact the evaluation could have on participating students.

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For more about the role of context in evaluation, click here