Karla Barron

Major and Classification

Sociology and Latin American Studies

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Jody Agius Vallejo


Dornsife: Sociology

Research Gateway Project

“From College to Career: The Transitional Experience for First Generation Latina College Students at USC”

Project Abstract

First-generation college students are a growing population in the U.S. higher education system. However, as college enrollment rates for these student’s increase, graduation rates remain stagnant. A first-generation college student support website called “I’m First!” identifies these students as “neither parent having received a four-year college degree.” This site indicates that while approximately 30% of college students nationwide identify as low-income first-generation college students, 89% of these students will not complete a college degree in six years. At USC, 14% of undergraduate students identify as first-generation college students. Research on this field has primarily focused on the high school to college transition and the factors that make for a successful integration to the university community. Yet, not much attention has been given to their retention and experiences as they begin to transition out of their undergraduate institution and to their next career pathway – whether it be academic or professional. This qualitative research study seeks to understand the college to career transitional experiences of first-generation college students who identify as Latinas at USC. Additionally, it explores the extent to which students feel supported by the university during their time at USC and while preparing to make this transition. Data collection through the use of semi-structured interviews brings to light the shared issues that these women face as well as the perceptions they have about transitioning to the next phase in their lives. The sample consists of ten women who currently attend or recently graduated from USC; five of the women are entering their Junior or Senior year this Fall while the other five graduated within the last two years. These findings are significant because they allude to the larger societal issues about upward mobility for institutionally disadvantaged populations. As the country becomes increasingly more diverse, it is important to understand how well education, acting as the main mechanism for mobility, is actually serving disadvantaged students at this elite university.