Research Project: The Struggles of First-Gen College Students

There has long since been immense difficulty for first-generation college students to attend and complete higher education. These students must forgo the application and education process with little to no assistance from family because they are the first person in their family to do so. This issue was discussed in one of the article choices for the SAR assignment, “I’m one of the first in my family to attend college. Here’s how I got there” by Ronnie Estoque.

While the application process is a massive hurdle for these students, completing their education on time is even more difficult. According to EAB, about 66% of regular students are on track to graduate after three years in college. Comparatively, only about 48% of first-generation students are on pace to graduate at the same point in their education. While the difference in these percentages may seem relatively small, they may reveal a difference of tens of thousands of students because of how large the college student population is. We must assist these students in completing the application process suitably and on time.

The number of struggles first-generation college students face is immeasurable and varies from person to person. Nevertheless, there is a multitude of trials that a large portion of these students face. The University of Southern California published an article discussing these struggles. One of the struggles examined is a “lack of knowledge of existing resources” (First-Gen & Common Struggles). Because these students don’t typically have easy access to information like scholarships and the benefits of higher education, they might believe college is unnecessary or unobtainable. The only way to combat this is to provide as much information about higher education as possible to these students. Another common struggle outlined by the USC article is immense self-doubt. Because these students are the first people in their family to attend college, they feel extensive pressure to succeed and quickly become overwhelmed. To combat this, peers and family members can use words of encouragement to show the student they are doing well. Although this may seem insignificant, it can go a long way.

Another vital struggle outlined in the article stems from parental hardship. In some instances, parents have a hard time letting their children go. Thus, they will try their hardest to keep their kids close to them, even if it means stifling their dreams of obtaining higher education. One way to combat this is to set boundaries with parents, ensuring that students have primary control over their futures. It is imperative for these parents to “realize that college is a time for self-growth and reflection” (First-Gen & Common Struggles). The final struggle discussed in the article details another struggle parents typically face. Because they must now deal with “changes in family structure, [navigation of] higher education, having trouble locating campus resources, and being involved in [their] child’s education” (First-Gen & Common Struggles), they too can become overwhelmed and feel helpless. The best way to assist parents in this situation is to provide them with a support group capable of assisting throughout the transition. As demonstrated in this article, both students and their parents fight through struggles when entering the realm of higher education for the first time. Luckily, organizations like Bottom Line and the First Generation Foundation are determined to assist first-generation college students and their families.

Looking at this issue through the lens of a former first-generation college student, it becomes even more explicit how prevalent these struggles are. Linda Banks-Santilli, a current associate professor of education, discusses her thoughts on the adversities of first-generation students in her article, “Living a double life.” Like the article by USC, Santilli mentions the hardship within a family that occurs in this situation. What’s interesting is she believes some students “come to develop two different identities – one for home and another for college” (Santilli). She suspects this stems from a disruption in the family dynamic, causing the child to feel alienated and lost. Because they have grown up living with a particular set of standards and way of life, this change brings about a significant “shift in identity” (Santilli) that some students are afraid to show to their family.

According to Santilli, the most lacked resource of first-generation college students is professional mentoring. Because a significant portion of these students come from low-income households, they are forced to work regular jobs and rely on federal aid and scholarships to pay for college instead of taking a professional internship. Furthermore, these students typically fill out their financial aid applications and often struggle due to a lack of knowledge of their family’s financial information. This, coupled with technologically challenged parents, prevents students in need from acquiring scholarships and aid that would enable them to take internships instead of menial jobs.

Possibly an even more significant challenge is that first-generation students typically lack the confidence to come forward and ask for assistance. The stigma of being a first-generation college student creates an environment in which these students’ “background is viewed as a deficit rather than a strength” (Santilli). This environment quickly stifles and suffocates students, pushing them to feel as though they have no support network. Furthermore, these students are typically discriminated against because of their racial and/or ethnic background. Because of these issues, it is understandable why first-generation students are scared to ask for help. Colleges must work harder to create an environment in which these students feel safe and comfortable for them to succeed. Santilli stresses this point in her article, stating that colleges must “redesign their institutional cultures, teaching practices, and academic support services to be more inclusive of first-generation college students” (Santilli). Furthermore, Santilli suggests that administrations hire more former first-generation college students as professors to create a proper support network for incoming first-generation students. It is extremely helpful for these students to have a resource in professors that have experienced the same hardships and succeeded. They are also living proof that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

This issue isn’t new, nor is it going away any time soon. In a society where a college education is becoming commonplace, we must provide all students with equal opportunities and resources to properly obtain an education and succeed in a college environment. Most of these students have poured their hearts into having a successful academic career; it is time for us to show them their work has paid off.

 

Work Cited

Banks-Santilli, Linda. “Struggles Many First-Generation College Students Face.” Greatschools.org, 10 Feb. 2017, www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/struggles-first-generation-college-students-face/.

Eab. “7 Fast Facts about Your First Generation Students.” EAB, 15 June 2020, eab.com/insights/daily-briefing/student-affairs/7-fast-facts-about-your-first-generation-students/.

“First-Gen & Common Struggles > First Generation College Students at USC > USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.” First Generation College Students at USC > USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, USC Dornsife, dornsife.usc.edu/first-generation-college-students-at-usc/what-are-first-gen-common-struggles/.

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