By definition, first-generation students are the first in their families to attend college. This means that their parents neither attended college nor received a college degree. In 2010 alone, there were almost 4.5 million first-gen students enrolled in universities across America, and now, there are approximately 11.2 million first-gen students enrolled in college (Schelbe, 2019). Although first-gen students make up more than fifty percent of college students, they are 8.5 times more likely to drop out during their first four years due to the feeling of isolation and a lack of support (Schelbe, 2019). Demonstrating that getting into college is not the only struggle for first gens but staying in is the real challenge. With that being said, should colleges provide more resources to first-gen students apart from scholarships and loans, to help them better succeed? Or are student loans and scholarships enough? Keep in mind the class reading during this course such as “Taking My Parents to College” by Jennine Capo and “I’m Was a Low-Income College Student. College Weren’t the Hard Part” by Anthony Abraham Jack. This topic is important to discuss because first-gen students make up at least half of the population of every given campus yet they are the most at risk of dropping out. This needs to change and it starts here with us.
When first-generation students make the transition from high school to higher education, they are instantly at a disadvantage compared to their peers. For instance, first-gen students have a greater need for money. The author of “Supporting First-Generation Students”, Alecea Standlee, explains in her article that the difficulties of first-gen students are much greater because they work considerable hours to provide money not only for themselves but to support their families. On top of job dedications, first-gen students commonly have significant responsibilities when it comes to their families and remains deeply connected to problems happening at home despite being at college. With this mixture of employment and family commitments, first-generation students are at academic risk before their first month at school. Yet these are not the only challenges that get in the way of first generational success. First gens have neither experience nor exposure to college life, consequently, they have no clue of their new role as a college student and are completely unaware of college norms. For many first-gen students, college becomes an awful guessing game that one hopes to get right in the end. Ultimately, first-gen students need more than scholarships and loans to succeed in college. In reality, they need social support, academic preparation, and connections to adequate resources to make it through the full four years. According to, “First Generation College Students’ Perceptions of an Academic Retention Program”, by Lisa Schelbe, “they (first-gen students) lack familial history or knowledge on which they can draw for support as they move through college” (Schelbe, 2019). In this quote, Arch and Gilman tell their readers that first-gen students don’t have enough knowledge nor support at home about college life. Unlike continuous generation students, first-gen students don’t have the luxury of getting previous information about college from their parents because they’ve never had that experience. Inevitably, first-generation students feel pressured to figure it out on their own which is ultimately detrimental to the student. Thus, first-gen students require social support when making the transition from high school to college. Since first-gen students have less knowledge about college than their peers, they need extra support from students and administrators. This could come through mentors, seminars, webinars, campus buddies, etc. If colleges can effectively connect first-gen students with mentors that could pour experience, knowledge, and encouragement into them, first-gen students would be more likely to stay and finish college. Fundamentally, first-gen students need to know they are not alone and desire to be surrounded by people that can understand and appreciate their background. By establishing social support structures for them, institutions would be taking a step in the right direction.
Apart from support, first-gen students would greatly benefit from more preparation when entering college. Based on the information provided by Xan Arch and Isaac Gilman in Designing Services for First-Generation Students, many first generational struggles are rooted from a lack of preparation (Arch, 2019). Therefore, providing them with as much preparation as possible is a necessary form of action for institutions to take. Universities could do this through preparation programmers, however, “first-generation students are less likely to engage in college groups and organizations “ (Arch, 2019 ). Thus, colleges need curriculum courses (specifically for first-gen students) that teach all the preparation skills one would need through college. Lastly, first-gen students require connections with adequate resources to be confident and comfortable in school. Most of the resources first-gen students need are there but accessing them can be difficult for them since there are so many things competing for their attention. As a result, they need exposure to resources such as counseling services, financial aid offices, and academic advising in the early stages of their college career. This will greatly assist first-gen students when it comes to finding aid on campus.
Being a first-generation, anything is difficult. They must be brave to face the adversity set before them and strength to rise above the loneliness that surrounds them. The struggles that first-gen students are not light and should never be overlooked. In reality, they don’t have to pursue higher education, at any moment they could quit school, work full time and no one would blame them. However, first-gen students make the decision every day to break the trend of their family members and reach for something bigger. Simply their resilience and dedication is something truly admirable. If one wishes to read more information about first-gen students “Supporting First-Generation Students” by Arelis Benitez was a great article about the ways communities can help when supporting first-gen students. Also, “Online Guide for First-Generation College Students” by Alecea Standlee is an excellent read for first-gen students themselves that want to ensure they are staying relevant on their resources and knowledge.
Arch, Xan, and Isaac Gilman. “First Principles: Designing Services for First- Generation
Students.” College &Research Libraries, vol. 80, no. 7, Nov. 2019, pp. 996–1012.
“Crlt.” CRLT, crlt.umich.edu/blog/supporting-first-generation-college-students-classroom.
UNC-Chapel Hill RECEIVES National Recognition for Supporting First-Generation Students. 17 Feb. 2020, college.unc.edu/2019/05/first
Standlee, A. (2019, April 11). Inside higher ed. Retrieved April 29, 2021, from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2019/04/11/policies-and-practices-help-first generation-college-students-succeed-opinion
Schelbe, Lisa et al. “First Generation College Students’ Perceptions of an Academic Retention Program.” Journal of the Scholarship of
Teaching and Learning, vol. 19, no. 5, Dec. 2019. EBSCOhost, doi:10.14434/josotl.v19i5.24300.