Rebecca Edwards
Rachael Gibson
Colm Harmon
Stefanie Schurer

We study the role of non-cognitive skills (NCS) in university readiness and performance of first-in-family students (FIFS) using both nationally representative survey data and linked survey-administrative data on an incoming student cohort at a leading Australian university. In both data sources we find that FIFS enter university with lower cognitive skills (-0.3 SD), but with the same NCS as non-FIFS. FIFS have 0.24 SD lower grade-point averages (GPA) and are up to 50 percent more likely to drop-out after Year 1 than non-FIFS. Yet, FIFS catch up with non-FIFS by the end of Year 2. Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Openness (when adjusting for measurement error with anchoring vignettes), and Locus of Control (when allowing for nonlinearities) are predictive of GPA. High levels of Conscientiousness offset FIFS performance penalties; low levels exacerbate them, especially when controlling for measurement error. Our findings accentuate the importance of NCS as facilitator of educational mobility.

Publication Type
Working Paper
File Description
First version, March 27, 2021
JEL Codes
A22: Economic Education and Teaching of Economics: Undergraduate
J24: Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
non-cognitive skills
university performance
socioeconomic gradient in education
linked survey and administrative data
anchoring vignettes