Lately, the term “first-generation” has made headlines. The way I see it, first generation simply means breaking a pattern, whether it’s being the first of your family to be born in a new country, or being the first one of your siblings to attend college. I can argue my mother is first generation, since she was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. after marrying. I can also say my father is first generation, since both his parents were born in Mexico and he was also the first in his family to go to college.
First generation students come from a myriad of different backgrounds. An article from College of St. Scholastica states that 48.5% of Hispanic students, 45% of African American students, 35.6% of Native American students, 32.2% of Asian students, and 28% of white students are first generation. Similarly, first generation students also make up over half of all college students.
As we can see, pursuing a college education can be an arduous task, particularly for first generation students, as these students often come from low-income, immigrant and/or minority families. Since their parents are unfamiliar with higher education, these students often have to navigate their path to college and a career on their own. In fact, according to the First Generation Foundation, “Being a first generation college student is one of the most often cited predictors of higher education failure.”
First generation students generally take longer to complete their degrees and have higher dropout rates. Eighty-nine percent of low-income first-generation students leave college within six years without a degree, and more than a quarter drop out after their first year.
Fortunately though, many have now become cognizant of the obstacles first generation students often have to face and patterns have begun to shift. For example, many college access programs, such as Upward Bound, College Match, and Telacu, have been installed in high schools, providing students with college counseling, test prep, and more.
Scholarships from colleges and external organizations, combined with federal grants and loans have relieved the financial strains that come with a college education, thus allowing first generation students to focus on their academics. This has led to a surge in first generation student presence in Ivy league schools and other elite campuses. As a matter of fact, Laura Pappano in her article, “First-Generation Students Unite” states that 11% of freshmen at Dartmouth are first generation, 12% at Princeton, 14% at Yale, 15% at Amherst, 16% at Cornell, and 17% at Brown. In this way, current first generation students can be inspired to excel in their academics as they become better able to envision themselves in institutions such as these.
So, the question remains: how can we continue to help first generation students succeed? For one, schools should continue to implement college access programs as well as provide college counseling. College awareness events can provide first generation students with an idea of what college will be like, as well as connecting them with other current first generation students attending college.
All in all, educational institutions should recognize the needs first generation students have in order to guide them to the path of success and help them realize they too belong.