First generation college students buck the odds. No one else in their families has a college degree, but these students have persevered. Many go to public colleges or universities; many take on student loans to do so.
However, many first generation students are part of the drop out statistics. Sometimes graduation rates for these students are as low as 11%. Often they end up with low GPAs, student loan debt, and little chance of getting future scholarships to continue their education.
Why? There are several reasons. First generation college students are generally behind in their studies because of going to high schools in poorer communities. They are unprepared academically, having little idea of what to expect of college demands. They enter institutions that are not equipped to offer support to help them graduate, and they face challenges like needing to work, financial burden, and few support resources.
How can first generation students better ensure success in earning a college degree? Here are a few answers:
1. First generation college students should not opt for the cheapest, most familiar school: two-year schools, local community colleges, and state schools, particularly those school which have a low bar for admittance. Many of these schools are least prepared to help first generation students. We recommend first generation students not underestimate themselves and attempt to apply to colleges with higher standards and that are not in their backyards.
2. Colleges should publish their graduate rates for first generation students. If they do not, they are already suspect. We recommend first generation students find out what the graduation rate is for their target group, making sure the rate does not include only those first generation students who are on Pell Grants. (These are the best-prepared students.) The rate should, be at least 54%.
3. Many colleges have resources such as tutors, remedial programs and study programs or centers. We recommend first generation students also ask about other programs that target them and that offer broader support. Such programs would include one-on-one mentoring, connections to other first generation students, and affiliations with national programs such as TRIO that are designed specifically to support first generation students. Surpringinly enough, although admission is more selective, schools like Harvard and Yale have high first generation graduate rates and offer scholarships and academic programs wrapped together to target these students. And, these schools, although selective, are looking for diversity to round out their graduation classes.
First generation students deserve the best because they are meeting the hardest challenges. If you are a first generation student, make sure you get the best!