Monday, October 22, 2012

First Generation Serving Institutions - FGSIs

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Coffman Distinguished Professor
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

This article proposes creating a new college and university classification: First Generation Serving Institutions (FGSIs).  This would reflect both an important segment of colleges and respect an important college going population in the US.  Campuses with special missions are an honored part of the higher education landscape, and recognizing that some campuses serve a large percentage of first generation students is important. 

There are many ways to classify colleges and universities.  The Higher Education Act of 1965 defined Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and the Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) have been a classification since the American Indian Higher Education Consortium was founded in 1972.  Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) is not an official institutional classification but is widely used in scholarship. 

First-generation students have been on campuses since the beginning of post-secondary education, members of this group have garnered recent attention in the US.  Often called the invisible minority, first-generation students are on every campus of every kind, and some campuses have more than others.  Some campuses have enough to be considered First Generation Serving Institutions.

Defining First Generation Students

There are at least three competing definitions for first-generation student:
1)      Both parents have at most a high school diploma and neither has any experience in any post-secondary institution.  This includes 44.1% percent of the population over 25 according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2010).
2)      One or both parents has at least some experience in college and neither parent has a two year college degree, or higher.  This includes 60% percent of the adult population over 25 according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2010).
3)      The binary idea of first generation should be expanded to include multiple levels of parental education using the following, or similar, list:
a.       Some high school, no diploma
b.      High school diploma, no experience in any post-secondary institution
c.       Partial college (at least one year), no degree
d.      Associate’s degree
e.       Bachelor’s or graduate degree

I propose here, for the purposes of defining First Generation Serving Institutions, accepting the most conservative and most widely used definition.  The U.S. Department of education defines first-generation students as those “whose parents never enrolled in post-secondary education” (U.S. Department of Education, 1998, p. v).  It should not pass the reader’s notice that there is an overlap between first-generation students and minority students because of the historically low rates of post-secondary education participation and degree completion of people who are ethnic minorities in the US.

Defining First Generation Serving Institutions

I propose that if at least 50% of the undergraduate students enrolled at a 4-year college or university are first-generation, having parents with no post-secondary experience, then that campus is an FGSI.  50% would mean that there are a majority of first generation students on campus and is twice the percent of all students enrolled in 4-year colleges in 2007-2008 who had parents with a high school diploma or less. 

Table 1
Percent of adult population and college students by parental educational attainment in 2007-2008

Parental education
US population over 25
2-year public college students
4-year public and private college students
High school diploma or less
Some postsecondary education, no degree
Bachelor’s degree or higher
(U.S. Census, 2010, Table 1; U.S. Department of Education, 2010, Table 3.11)

For comparison purposes note that according to the U.S. government HSIs must enroll at least 25% Hispanic full-time equivalent undergraduate students.  To be a Title I K-12 school there must be around 70% of the students eligible for free or reduced lunch.  The precise criteria for a Title I school are dynamic, political, and regional.  Everyone is serious about Title I criteria because supplemental resources are available to Title I schools.  Perhaps the U.S. and state Departments of Education should consider supplemental resources for FGSIs.

Community colleges have been described as access institutions, which is a code word for First Generation Serving Institutions.  The criteria to be a First Generation Serving Community College (FGSCC) should probably be higher than for a FGSI because they already enroll, in the aggregate, 40% first-generation students while 4-year institutions, in the aggregate, enroll only 25% first-generation students.

Second Generation Serving Institutions

SGSIs can similarly be defined using this same 50% rate for student attendance.  Second-generation students have parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher.  While this title can be seen as elitist, and consequently pejorative, it is a description of the reality that 52.7% of students at all U.S. private colleges and universities and 49.3% of students at ass U.S. public colleges and universities were second generation in 2007-2008 (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).  The economy has probably affected these percentages during the past 4 years in interesting ways.  A more generous criteria, for example 70% of second-generation students, will reduce the number of SGSIs considerably, but the list of SGSIs still matches the list of selective universities.

A Proxy Measure to be an FGSI

I propose that as a proxy for a 50% direct measure of parental education that we can use 40% percent of students on a campus who have a Pell Grant, which are designated for students from low income homes.  A 20% Pell Grant recipient level will work as an approximate dash board indicator for an SGSI.  Not every college and university collects parental education information and it not easily available in a public data base.  While parental education is reported on the FASFA not every student completes a FASFA. However, every school collects data on Pell Grants and that data is available for each campus at on the Financial Aid tab. 

A 40% Pell Grant recipient level is an approximate value since the relationship between Pell Grant status and generation status is moderate but positive, and the relationship between family income and parental educational attainment is high and positive.  Until colleges and universities report their first-generation student percents the Pell Grant percents will serve as a approximate dash board indicator.  

Whether or not the Pell Grant percent is a good approximate measure of the percent of first generation students on campus is a matter for research, and the 40% level is only speculation at this point.  On my campus in 2011 42% of students had Pell Grants and over half of our students were first generation. 

The Down Side of Being an FGSI

Being an HBCU has a high prestige value.  Being an HSI has a high prestige value.  Being a TCU has a high prestige value.  Being an HBCU, an HSI, or a TCU brings the opportunity to garner resources dedicated to the populations being served.  Being an FGSI has a low prestige value and brings no opportunities for resources.  First generation students are more likely to be minority students, more likely than other students to have low standardized test scores, more likely than other students to have academic deficits, and so on.  Typically first generation students have gone to poorer quality elementary, middle, and high schools than second generation students, and the results of poor academic preparation play out as an academic challenge for both the campus and for the student (U.S. Department of Education, 1998).

Graduation rates for first generation students are lower than for second generation students so the FGSIs will have a lower graduation rate than a Second Generation Serving Institutions (SGSIs).  Federal, State, and accrediting body emphasis on college graduation rates punishes FGSIs because of this emphasis on retention and graduation rates.  It may be the case that an institution classifies as both an HBCU, or an HSI, or a TCU and a FGSI.  I will leave the implications of this to the reader.

Institutional prestige, and the consequent reflected prestige, is important to students, faculty members, and administrators.  Even though educating all students has a high value in the US educational system being an FGSI is not high prestige.  Consequently, I would expect some resistance from administrators in identifying their campus as an FGSI, lest that classification diminish the perceived prestige of a campus in the eyes of people more concerned with prestige than with the promise of education and student learning.  Identifying as an FGSI may deter second-generation students from enrolling, but that is a matter for research and not for speculation.  Similarly identifying as a SGSI may deter first-generation students from enrolling, and the research indicates that this is the case given the low percentage of Pell Grant students at highly selective colleges (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2012).

The Up Side of Being an FGSI

Access, opportunity, and ethnic and social class diversity are the characteristics of the FGSI.  The promise of a higher paying job, of a job with benefits, of better working conditions, of access to graduate and professional education are some of the promises of college.  By serving first-generation students FGSI campuses are filling the US public education promise. 

Recognizing this new category of institution can help move the conversation about post-secondary education forward.  Should additional resources be dedicated to FGSIs? What are the implications of designating campuses as FGSIs or SGSIs?


U.S. Census Bureau (2010). Educational Attainment in the United States: 2010 - Detailed Tables. Retrieved from

U. S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, (2012). CollegeNavigator. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics. (1998). First-generation students: Undergraduates whose parents never enrolled in post-secondary education. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics (2010). Web tables: Profile of undergraduate Students 2007-2008. Retrieved from  (Table 3.11)

Comments:  A Google search for the phrase “first generation serving institution” revealed no pages on October 20, 2012.  Nowhere on the Internet indexed by Google did that specific phrase occur.  Other search engines produced the same result.  Without the quotation marks the Google search returned over 23,300,000 pages.  

I am proud to teach at an FGSI and my pride is part of why I developed the idea of First Generation Serving Institution.  Even though I only teach graduate students, the composition of our undergraduate student body creates a mix of students and a diversity that makes our campus interesting and makes it an excellent place to teach and learn higher education leadership. 

My colleague Dr. Catherine Tucker suggested the name Title I College, which has merit and implies that this classification is or should be associated with resources. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Middle-Class Values

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Coffman Distinguished Professor, Bayh College of Education, Indiana State University

The phrase middle-class values gets frequently used and infrequently specified.  What values are unique to members of this group?  What values do members of the middle class have that other classes don’t? 

The US Middle Class

In the 2008 Pew study Insidethe middle class: Bad times hit the good life people were asked place themselves in one of five socioeconomic categories.  This is a good research technique and a good way to avoid some of the traps of defining social class.  Participant’s answers were revealing: 91% of participants think of themselves as some variety of middle class. 

Pew Responses
Pew Combinations
Pew Categories
Upper Class
Middle class
Middle Class
Lower Class
Don’t know / Refused

The researchers at Pew, I assume in order to have an interesting study, combined the categories in a questionable way.  This is questionable social science.  Ideally all five categories should have been used in the analysis, but in the sample above there are very few Upper class and Lower class individuals.  If categories were combined then a researcher has several choices, and the Pew researchers chose to combine the Upper-middle class with the Upper class and to combine the Lower-middle class with the Lower class.  The 2% (48 of the 2413 people in the study) who identified as upper class had their results overwhelmed by the 19% (458 people) who identified as upper-middle class.  Similarly, the 6% (145 people) who identified as lower class had their results overwhelmed by the 19% (458 people) lower-middle class results. 
Combined in a different way, 91% of respondents self-identify as some variety (upper, middle, lower) of middle class.  The whole study describes the middle class when you combine the three middle class groups in this way, which is how I choose to read the results.

What does this have to do with middle class values?  If you agree that people can self-assign their social class then you then have a personal identity model of social class.  If the researchers had assigned people to classes based on occupation, education, and income, like the NY Times in Class Matters, then you would have a different model of social class that reflected certain assumptions about hierarchies of occupation, education, and income.

People’s identifications of their class reflect those things, behaviors, or values that they believe are associated with social class.  The Pew study asked people about their things, behaviors, and values, and then linked those back to how people self-identified.  Using their questionably combined social class categories the study found some distinctions between their three groups.  This is a good research technique, except if you have made questionable decisions about social class categories.

Combining the groups into the 91% middle class then middle class values are:
  • Upward mobility – people with more money report more mobility than those without money and everyone reports that mobility is harder now than before.
  • Having homes – people have been purchasing larger and more expensive homes
  • Having stuff – people with more money have more consumer goods
  • Having free time – everyone wants more
  • Having children
  • Having a successful career
  • Being married
  • Doing volunteer or charity work
  • Living a religious life
  • Social competition - keeping up with or doing better than others is embedded within these findings. 
These values should come as no surprise since these values are a reflection of what people in a majority of the majority social class believe.  That collective belief has always resulted in the personal and systemic oppression of those who hold different beliefs and values.  If what I believe is normal, and if you believe something different, then you are not normal.

The International Middle Class
Another Pew study: The global middle class: Views on democracy, religion, values, and life satisfaction in emerging nations tells a slightly different story and a gives deeper message.  This report is the basis of The new middle class in emerging markets from The Economist.  The report is divided into sections on democracy, religion and social issues, environmental issues, and life satisfaction and is based on the reported attitudes of the rising middle class: “people in emerging nations whose household income can be considered at least “middle income” by international standards” (p. 1).  

A generalization of the results is that members of the middle class in emerging nations are heavily invested in the political, religious, social, and business system that made them middle class.  For example in nearly all nations studied members of the middle class more strongly supported honest elections with at least two parties as very important than did respondents with lower incomes.  As with the study above, these results should come as no surprise.  If a system has worked for me personally, in this case made me middle income, then I will support that system.

Not middle class values
What is not in the middle class values list above may be an artifact of the research questions asked or may reflect a reality.  For example, education is not a middle class value in the list above, and may in reality not be a middle class value.  As evidence for education not being a middle class value I refer to the 85% high school degree attainment rate and the 30% college degree attainment rate according to the US Census Bureau.  It is important to note that graduation rates for high schools are typically 75% and 50% for colleges.  If education were valued then these rates would be much higher.  However, we do know that 75% of college students have college educated parents, and that only 30% of the parenting public has a college degree.  In the case of education perhaps there are important differences in the value of education within the 91% or this reflects investment in a system that made the parents successful.

A Google search will provide an introduction to the controversy surrounding how to calculate high school graduation numbers.  I support counting the number of 9th grade students and then the number of diplomas awarded four years later adjusted for population growth or decline. 

Middle class values are normative in that they are held by the majority of the people in the majority social class in the US and are thus considered normal.  Reading the bulleted list above should not be a surprise to anyone since it will appear normal.  Adding middle class members’ investment in the political, religious, social, and business system rounds out the picture of middle class values. 

New Post The students' guide to becoming upper-middle class