Of the 1.3 million first-time freshmen who took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) last year, 28 percent were first-generation college students, according a study in Research in Higher Education.
Take a look at the quick facts and it’s clear that students whose parents did not obtain a bachelor’s degree are not prepared or expected to succeed.
The Pell Institute’s study on first-generation, low-income students approaches a problem that is two-fold. People who are first-generation students are likely to be considered low-income, and vice-versa.
More than 15 million students are enrolled in postsecondary institutions. Of that 15 million, nearly 30 percent (4.5 million) are low-income, first-generation students, according to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. Only 11 percent of the 4.5 million are actually expected to graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 55 percent of non-first-gen students. Experts expect the number of low-come, first-generation students to grow, but they also expect more to dropout.
With the first-gen population growing, institutions need to know the challenges these students face and the students need to know how to approach the hurdles ahead.
Here are some quick facts:
First-gen students are likely to:
- Work part-time or full-time while enrolled.
- Have more financial responsibilities.
- Be older than the traditional student.
- Dropout after their first year — four times more likely than their more advantaged peers.
- Make big decisions without help or guidance.
First-gen students are less likely to:
- Be academically prepared.
- Receive financial support from their family.
- Be engaged and involved on campus.
- Have degree expectations and plans.
- To enroll in a graduate or professional program post-undergraduate.
According to a study in The Journal of Higher Education, first-generation students had less basic knowledge about postsecondary education in regards to the application process and cost, and many of them are not prepared to succeed in college. First-generation students need to take hold of their education and their future by committing to making a change.
Here are ways for first-gens to beat the odds:
Get started early: First-generation students and their parents need to start researching before the college application process even begins.
Think: College prep, Advanced Placement and ACT prep courses. Receive tutoring, and gain note-taking skills and develop good study habits.
Get a clue: Understand the culture of higher education and that education means personal development and better salaries. Studies show a bachelor’s degree can get you one million dollars more in a lifetime.
Ask for help because it’s out there: Reach out to programs that help at-risk students. More than 2,800 TRIO programs serve nearly one million students annually according to the U.S. Department of Education. These programs include:
• Talent Search provides pre-college help and information.
• Upward Bound helps college students with application process and prep classes.
• Student Support Services help with retention efforts with programs like the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program.
Money Talks: First-gens tend to overestimate the cost of college and underestimate aid available. Learn how to save and budget and pay for college by understating the financial options available including the FAFSA, federal resources and work-study programs, grants, subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
Be known: Your professors should know your name. When the professor announces their office hours or lists the times on the syllabus, take advantage of it. Visit the professor’s office, introduce yourself, address your concerns and ask about a reading assignment…or simply pop in and say hi. Also, get to know your classmates. They may help you in a bind, invite you to a study group and help keep you accountable.
First-gens need to realize they’re up against failure and will have to overcome obstacles. It’s the institutions’ job to notice the challenges so they can better retain and graduate disadvantaged students.
As a first-generation, low-income college student, I know how hard it is to beat the odds, but that is exactly what I am doing. I will graduate with two degrees in three and a half years because I set myself up to succeed by preparing early, committing to education and rewarding myself along the way. Now, the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program is preparing me to apply for graduate school and obtain my doctorate in international education.
If you have any helpful information on how to be a better first-generation student, please share your advice below.
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