First- and Continuing-Generation Students, Substance Use, and College Graduation


Swisher, Raymond R. & Dennison, Christopher R. (2019). First- and Continuing-Generation Students, Substance Use, and College Graduation. Social Forces.


Graduation from a four-year college is an important potential means of social mobility for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. For “first-generation” students, the path to a degree is often made more difficult by circumstances such as working long hours and living with parents, as well as an unfamiliar college environment. One concerning aspect of college life is the continuing prevalence of substance use, which has hampered graduation rates and led many universities to reconsider the impact that the party subculture has on student well-being. In this paper, we use data from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to examine differences in substance use (binge drinking, marijuana use, other illicit drug use) and four-year college graduation across unique combinations of students defined by college generation, work, and residential statuses. Consistent with previous qualitative studies into the class-specific consequences of the college party subculture, substance use is generally found to be higher among continuing-generation students who are not working nor living with their parents. In addition, substance use appears to have little consequence for the graduation prospects of these most traditional continuing-generation students. In contrast, substance use is negatively associated with graduation for most other groups, particularly first-generation students or those working long hours.




Reference Type

Journal Article

Journal Title

Social Forces


Swisher, Raymond R.
Dennison, Christopher R.

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