College & Workforce Readiness

Most First-Generation College Students Lag in Academic Readiness

By Caralee J. Adams — November 05, 2013 2 min read
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High school students who would be the first in their families to go to college scored much lower on the ACT and are not as academically prepared for postsecondary education as their peers who have college-going parents, a report released Monday found.

Just over half (52 percent) of high school ACT test takers who would be first-generation college students failed to meet any of the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, compared to 31 percent of all test takers.

Only 9 percent of first-generation students met all four benchmarks compared to 26 percent of the overall pool, according to the research by ACT, the Iowa City, Iowa-based testing organization, and the Council for Opportunity in Education, a nonprofit that promotes college opportunity for disadvantaged students.

The benchmarks are a minimum score in English, reading, math and science set by ACT to indicate students have a 75 percent chance of getting a C or higher in a typical credit-bearing first-year college course in that subject area.

Despite the poor testing performance among those first-generation students who took the ACT in 2013, two-thirds had completed a core curriculum of four years of English and three years each of math, social studies, and science. And 94 percent surveyed said they wanted to earn a college degree.

To address these gaps in aspiration and readiness, schools with large percentages of first-generation students need to integrate supportive services into the required curriculum to create a college-going culture, wrote Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, in the report. She also recommends schools partner with local colleges to offer more dual enrollment programs to first-genereration students and support be increased for college accress programs such as TRIO and GEAR UP.

Research by ACT shows that no single program or isolated reform can be a substitute for a coherent, long-term, systemwide approach to improving teaching and learning, the report notes. It concludes with several policy and classroom practice recommendations such as providing clear learning objectives by grade, increasing classroom collaboration, closely monitoring student progress using data, and targeting interventions to meet the learning needs of students and teachers.

In 2013, there were 1.8 million students who took the ACT, representing 54 percent of the 2013 high school graduating class. This report analyzes the attitudes and knowledge of those students during ACT registration who reported neither their mother nor father attended any type of postsecondary training.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.