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Toutkoushian Consulted for Definition of "First-Generation"

Toutkoushian definition

by Jewel Caruso

Robert Toutkoushian, associate director of McBee, was recently quoted in Inside Higher Ed in an article titled “Defining ‘First Generation’ in Different Ways” by Jessica Blake. 

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling against using race as a factor in higher education admissions, the article turns to research by Toutkoushian that explored the varying ways that “first-generation” is defined. 

Bipartisan federal programs, like TRIO, have used first generation status to expand outreach to students who might not have the tools and resources to pursue post secondary credentials. Building on this success, Blake makes the case for a broad and universally recognized definition of who qualifies as a “first-generation” student. 

Toutkoushian’s research report “Talking ‘Bout My Generation: Defining ‘First-Generation Students’ in Higher Education Research” found that between 22% to 77% of students could qualify as first generation, depending on which definition is used. 

Blake quoted Toutkoushian, ““The narrative for first-generation students is that if neither parent had gone to college, you’re less likely to do so because your parents aren’t encouraging it or don’t talk about it at home,” he said. “Yet, here’s a group of students who … should have some familiarity with it and some exposure to it, and they are still less likely to go to college and earn a degree.”

Using Toutkoushian’s research, the article compares the criteria used by  Brown University and Harvard University. One defines “first gen” as “any student who may self-identity as not having prior exposure to or knowledge of navigating higher institutions.” The other institution limits tor student who are the first in their “immediate family to graduate from a four-year college or the equivalent.” 

Toutkoushian points out that even students with one parent who attended college still are at a “significant disadvantage” academically and are less likely to go themselves. Whether the students are first generation based on a broad or strict definition, Toutkoushian advocates for better support of potential students.: “The most important implication here is that some kids, even with a more lenient definition of first-generation status, still need some help. If the definition that’s used for a support program is too narrow, they’re missing out on help that they need.” 

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Associate Director and Professor of Higher Education

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