Research Project – English 1102
Dr. Rebecca Weaver
April 27, 2021
In recent years, pursuing college education has become more prominent within the United States. As more jobs in the US require high levels of educational training, more first-generation students have started attending prestigious universities. However, applying and being accepted to a university is only half the battle. Once a first-generation student is accepted, they now must fight against barriers on their path such as financial aid, orientation, and college preparation. After these challenges, more follow. Now students must be equipped with the necessary resources and support in order to pass classes and participate in extracurricular such as personal computers and transportation. In the article, “Taking My Parents to College”, Jennine Capó Crucet describes how in her first English class, she was completely overwhelmed and unprepared for the course’s content and difficulty, unlike many of her classmates (Crucet, 2015). While her parents tried to help, they were unfamiliar with the college coursework and environment, thus providing inadequate familial support. Additionally, Crucet lacked knowledge and resources as to what to do next as well. It is important to understand what resources and support first-generation students need in order to prepare them for higher education at the same level as their classmates.
In the classroom, first-generation students are often disadvantaged as well. In “Taking My Parents to College”, we saw Crucet struggle with her English class, a common experience for many first-generation students (Crucet, 2015). Since parents of these students have never attended college in the US, many first-generation students enter college with a misleading and inaccurate perspective of college classes. Many are unaware of the vast differences between college and high school classes, such as much longer hours of studying and readings required and much more outside of class time required to self-learn and work on projects. Without proper resources, such as specific counseling for these students, they are often taken by surprise their freshmen year. Additionally, since many first-generation students are low-income, they often work part-time or full-time jobs to help pay for college tuition. Thus, they have less personal time outside of class hours to work on coursework. This causes first-generation students to fall behind in their academics compared to their peers. Furthermore, many first-generation students also happen to be people of color who would benefit from a “culturally responsive and inclusive teaching and learning frameworks in college classrooms” (Delima, 2019). Since many first-generation students lack familial support due to the family’s unfamiliarity with college courses, first-generation students would benefit from higher faculty support and interaction. This includes spending more time with these students in the classroom and teaching them coursework differently from the long, required readings which use too much unavailable personal time. Some examples of this type of learning include a “physics professor teaching a lesson about cooking and turning raw ingredients into cooked foods” to demonstrate the physics concept of thermodynamics (Delima, 2019). Or a professor of an advanced writing course who engages in action research, in which they ask, “students collect artifacts and data from their own home communities in order to write anthologies stemming from their own personal lives” (Delima, 2019). This type of interactive and inclusive teaching would allow first-generation college students to have a strong support beam, similar to the one many other students receive from their families, putting first-generation college students at the same playing field as their peers.
As first-generation college students look to prepare for jobs and graduate schools after undergraduate studies, they must be enabled to compete with their classmates in order to obtain internships, leadership positions, and volunteering hours. These help build students resumes. However, not all students come into college equipped with the knowledge or resources to do this, especially first-generation college students. While students who were aware of these necessary extracurriculars come to college prepared with transportation, technology, and personal tutors for exams such as the MCAT and LSAT. Many college students buy new i-pads and computers in order to be better prepared for college classes and for universities that allow it, even bring their own cars to volunteer at hospitals or intern at local companies. However, this isn’t an option for many first-generation college students who don’t know to and can’t afford to bring the same personal resources to university. One study confirmed that the digital divide is an increasing problem in universities, specifically “minority serving institutions where students do not come to college with the technology skills needed for academic success” (Buzzetto-Hollywood et al., 2018). This not only causes them to have a late start when it comes to looking for these internship opportunities, but also prevents them from being able to obtain them at all. Additionally, for careers that require even further education after undergraduate studies, such as doctors and lawyers, it is difficult for first-generation college students to meet the necessary requirements for graduate school due to their lack of resources and connections. Unlike students whose parents or relatives have already gone to college and graduate school, first-generation college students have nobody to provide them with insight on how to successfully prepare to take exams such as the MCAT and LSAT or apply to graduate schools. According to the American Psychological Association, this unpreparedness and feeling of being “not enough” causes first-generation college students “more likely to leave college without a credential after 3 years of enrollment, and 6 years after postsecondary entry, fewer remain enrolled compared to continuing-generation peers and nearly 90% fail to graduate” (McCallen, 2020). In order to minimize these consequences, universities need to provide better and more affordable resources for first-generation students.
The lack of personal resources and support available for first-generation college students places them at a lower playing field than their peers, requiring them to work harder for the same results as their classmates. It is clear that first-generation students are in need of better structural support, access to technology and transportation, and career finding aid. Universities should heed more attention to their first-generation college students in order for to make them feel more supported and heard in higher education.
Buzzetto-Hollywood, N., Hwei Wang, Elobeid, M., & Elobaid, M. (2018). Addressing Information Literacy and the Digital Divide in Higher Education. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning & Learning Objects, 14, 77–93. https://doi.org/10.28945/4029
Crucet, J. C. (2015, August 22). Opinion: Taking My Parents to College (Published 2015). Opinion | Taking My Parents to College – The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/1JcvKZ6.
Delima, D. G. (2019). Making a Case for a Funds of Knowledge Approach to Teaching and Learning for First-Generation College Students. College Teaching, 67(4), 205–209. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2019.1630355
McCallen, L. S., & Johnson, H. L. (2020). The role of institutional agents in promoting higher education success among first-generation college students at a public urban university. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 13(4), 320–332. https://doi.org/10.1037/dhe0000143