Education Wednesday: Continuing Support for First-Generation College Students


Millions of students will become trailblazers this Fall as the first in their family to attend college. These first-generation college students face many obstacles just to reach higher education. Once there, it will take additional hard work to earn a degree. To ensure no student slips through the cracks, we must provide support that lasts until they march across the graduation stage.

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Students lined up to cross the graduation stage. Courtesy: Stanford.edu

Only 54 percent of first-generation college students graduate according to College Board. Changing this trend is particularly important for minorities. An estimated 61 percent of future first-generation students will be Hispanic and another 41 percent African-American.

Often first-generation students struggle in college for reasons such as feelings of alienation in a new environment and not being academically prepared for more rigorous course loads. Targeting these challenges is key to helping more students succeed.

Aundrea’s Tips for Helping First-Generations Students Reach College Graduation

  1. Locate on-campus resources ASAP: Students should start their college experiences by touring campus. Along with learning the location of key resources such as the counselor‘s office, students should learn how to utilize on-campus services. This will prevent students from missing the help they need to overcome personal and academic challenges. Additionally, within the first week of arriving, students should meet with their academic advisor to fully understand the requirements for graduation. 

  2. Encourage building a “College Crew”: Away from family and friends, first-generation students can feel cut-off from their support systems. Finding friends on campus with similar interests or backgrounds can help them feel more comfortable. Joining clubs, study groups, sports teams, and other social activities are great ways to start positive new relationships.

  3. Meet with professors often: Many first-generation students do not reach graduation because they are afraid or ashamed to ask for help. However, students should know that professors and other faculty are the best people to seek out if they are struggling, especially academically. Encourage students to meet one-on-one with their teachers during office hours. Speaking regularly with one of my professors not only helped me decide my major, but also connected me with a life long mentor

  4. Urge continued scholarship application: Financial issues continue to be the number one reason students drop out of college. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: Funding College with Grants and Scholarships, first-generation students should not slack on applying for thousands of available scholarships. This can help cover costs such as books. Continuing to apply can even help students get a head start on funding if they plan to attend graduate school.

The benefits of finishing school can be tremendous for first-generation students. Over the course of their lives, college graduates tend to earn higher salaries. Even more importantly, college grads are more likely to be engaged in their children’s education.

Support for first-generation students must extend beyond high school. In Education Wednesday: Empowering First-Generation College Students, I discuss the importance of planting the seeds of success early with support that starts at home and continues in school and in the community. Continuing to nurture our young people is vital as the aspirations of a generation hang in the balance, as well as the future prosperity of our county. 

Aundrea_Gregg-TheWiseLatinaClubAn education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

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