Higher education attainment has a powerful ability to increase the social and economic mobility of individuals and contribute to the human capital development of diverse communities and nations. Despite the numerous benefits of collegiate attainment, research has shown that opportunities to attain a college degree and advance within the academy are not the same for all students. Specifically, students from nontraditional college-going backgrounds—specifically first-generation college students—are often hindered by structures and norms that devalue their myriad social, cultural, and intersectional experiences and wisdom. While institutions of higher education have increased investment in improving student access and retention at the undergraduate level, comparatively little attention has been paid to the enrollment, persistence, and graduation of first-generation students at the graduate school level. This article examines the experience of “first-gen” graduate students and argues that, in order to undermine rather than replicate civically corrosive structures of class and race inequality over the long term, institutions of higher education must better support first-generation graduate students in their efforts to join the academic ranks.

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