Hello! My name is Billy Evans. I was a graduate assistant on
the College Prep 101 Development Team. I am very interested in the
subject of First Generation College Students, because I belong to
this special group of students. I came to OSU without any
knowledge of what to expect at college. I was the first person in my
family to attend college. I did not even know that I needed a
backpack! As a result, I have done some research on how students
like myself and others can be successful in college. The following
information should be helpful to you as you begin your college
journey. Good luck!
What does it mean to be a first-generation college student?
It means that you are the first person in your immediate
family that is going to attend college. Since your parents did not
go to college, you may be at a disadvantage when it comes to support
(emotional and financial). You may need some added support from
college staff and faculty to help you get some basic knowledge about
college, and how to make your years there successful. This may not
be true with all first-generation college students.
The Following Is A List Of Helpful Areas That Eductators And
First-Generation College Students May Need To Address.
Identifying First-Generation College Students
Billson and Terry (1982) defined first-generation college
students as those students whose parents have had no college or
university experience. These students have been defined as being
from blue-collar backgrounds containing lower levels of formal
education (Bean & Metzner, 1985). When compared to the "traditional
student", first-generation college students had lower pre-college
critical thinking abilities, and were more likely to come from low
income families, and to have been encouraged by teachers (not
parents) to attend college, and to be Hispanic (Terenzini, Springer,
Pascarella, & Nora, 1995). There are differences between
first-generation and traditional students with respect to their
basic knowledge of college, personal commitment, and level of family
support, with first-generation students being at a disadvantage in
most cases (York-Anderson & Bowman, 1992).The contemporary student
is no longer upper middle class, adolescent, or male; instead the
proportion of working class and minority students has increased
dramatically (London, 1992). Students whose social, personal and
cultural backgrounds have not adequately prepared them, often cannot
readily adjust and become active participants in the academic and
social community of the campus (Buck, 1982).
First-generation college students share some common characteristics.
Here are some statistics for this population as reported by the
article Missed Opportunities. The article reports that
first-generation students are less likely to complete the necessary
steps to enroll in a four-year institution. Of first-generation
students, only 36% aspire to a bachelor's degree or higher, 45% take
the SAT or ACT, and only 26% apply to a four-year institution. By
comparison, 78% of students for whom at least one parent has a
bachelor's degree aspire to a bachelor's degree or higher, 82% take
the ACT or SAT, and 71% apply to a four-year institution. The
article goes on to say that first-generation students are more
likely to delay enrollment in postsecondary education, which
inhibits degree completion. Only 29% of first-generation students
enroll in any postsecondary institution immediately after high
school graduation, compared to 73% of students whose parents have
college experience. 45% of all undergraduates are first-generation
students. They are more likely to enroll on a part-time basis – 53%,
versus 38% of students whose parents went to college. Most of these
students are enrolled in two-year institutions. The article
concludes by saying, first-generation students also face barriers in
attaining college degrees. Only 44% attain a degree within five
years, compared to 56% of students whose parents have a bachelor's
One of the greatest challenges confronted by
first-generation college students is college attendance represents a
departure from the pattern established by family and friends, who
may in turn become non-supportive or obstructionist (Hsiao, 1992).
First-generation college students were at a disadvantage in
comparison to the students whose parents had significant experience
with the college or university setting (Billson & Terry, 1982). It
is likely that parents who have experienced the educational process
are in much better position to pass information about their college
experiences on to their children, whereas parents of
first-generation college students simply do not have that
information to pass on to their children (York-Anderson & Bowman,
1991). First-generation students often sense displeasure on the part
of acquaintances, and feel an uncomfortable separation from the
culture in which they grew up. Such tensions frequently require the
student to "renegotiate relationships" with friends and relatives,
something which is not always done easily or with a happy ending
Summer Bridge Programs
The following are some specific suggestions about what
colleges must do to improve the bottom line for first-generation
college students – that is, to enhance their learning, success,
satisfaction, and retention. Faculty and student affairs
administrators must reconnect our campuses to our host communities
and begin working with pre-college students and their families, as
well as with public school faculty and administrators in respective
disciplines, to serve these students and families long before they
come to us (Gardner, 1996).
College summer bridge programs or transitional programs for
high-risk, low-income and minority students are becoming an
established part of the effort to recruit, retain, and graduate a
population of high-risk students in higher education (Santa Rita &
Bacote, 1993). Summer Bridge students had the highest retention
among four comparison groups exceeding by 31 percent the rate of a
comparable group of minority, low-income students (Meyers & Drevlow,
Levin (1989) notes, some colleges offer summer programs that
are specifically designed to encourage minority high school students
to consider going to college. Clemson University Career Workshop is
an enrichment program for minority students. The students spend two
consecutive summers on campus. During that time they are introduced
to fields of interest such as engineering, computer theory,
mathematics, and communications. The only cost is transportation to
and from campus.
Astin (1985) states, frequent interaction with faculty
members is more strongly related to satisfaction with college than
any other type of involvement or, indeed, any other student or
institutional characteristics. One means of fostering involvement
with university faculty is through participation in small, highly
individualized orientation classes with built-in opportunities for
one-on-one contact with the professor outside the classroom (Higbee,
1989). Orientation is critically important for first-generation
students, who often lack essential background knowledge about
specific institutions and about higher education (Gardner, 1996).
Sponholz (1996) describes a summer orientation program as a
students chance to do all of your getting lost and looking like a
clueless freshman before the other three classes arrive. Activities
are usually organized at lots of different locations on campus, so
you get some navigating experience. You find your way to the various
classroom buildings, see where the faculty and administrative
offices are, get a feel for living in the residence halls, and eat
lunch in the cafeteria. Coming to school in the fall knowing your
way around makes a world of difference. All of these experiences are
very important for a first-generation college student who does not
have anyone in their house to ask questions about these issues.
Counseling and Mentoring
Wallace (1997) studied the effectiveness of formal mentoring
programs for high-risk undergraduate students. Formal mentoring is
defined as a deliberate matching of university personnel with
high-risk students, a group which may include people of color,
women, low-income persons, the physically challenged, and first
generation college students. Wallace (1997) says, formal mentoring
has evolved to promote students' emotional, environmental, and
academic acculturation into the college environment. The study
concluded that until our society can eliminate oppressive
hierarchies that result in high risk students, formal mentoring
programs should be fostered and encouraged. The study believes their
research can provide the education community with powerful indices
of the positive impact that formal mentoring relationships can have
on high risk students' success and satisfaction in postsecondary
Demery (1987) did a study of 115 special service students
that were mainly first-generation students. The study was to
determine how effective the Content-Guide-Checklist of 27 questions
was in giving students appropriate counseling and achieve
graduation. Demery (1987) says the service encourages the students
to do the following:
· Have effective relationships with his or her academic advisor and
· Acquire and use good time management and classroom skills.
· Use library resources frequently.
· Get involved in support groups, other organizations and activities
– get to know others as others get to know him or her.
Anything we can do to increase the amount of time that new
college students spend on campus – in study groups, in the library,
in co-curricular activities, and especially in living and working on
campus – will enhance their probability of success (Gardner, 1996).
Stegman (1969) conducted a study with experimental living area
activities, designed to improve the retention ratio of college
freshman. The objectives included the identification of potential
dropout students and assigning them to an empathetic graduate
assistant living in the residence hall. The assistant was charged
with the responsibility of aiding the potential dropout group to
stay in college successfully and in a self-satisfactory manner. The
results of this study at Southwest Missouri State College found that
the personal attention and help given to the experimental study
groups may have been instrumental in accounting for a significant
(beyond 95% confidence) raise in persistency of the experimental
students as compared to their control counterparts (Stegman, 1969).
We know that students who join groups stay in college longer
and are more academically successful, and organized forms of campus
involvement provide first-generation students with role models who
understand and are committed to the academy (Gardner, 1996). Astin's
theory (1985) of student involvement indicates that, the more
students invest physical and psychological energy to get involved in
the academic and social culture of the college, the greater the
potential for student success.
Dale (1992) gives a description of the retention program at
Purdue University called HORIZONS. He says the cornerstone of the
project design is the required course for new students, "Strategies
for Effective Academic Performance". This course has been taught
since 1983 and allows the HORIZONS staff to:
· Further assess student needs.
· Ensure participation in appropriate program activities.
· Teach needed affective skills.
· Provide career, personal, and academic counseling.
· Teach effective study methods.
· Develop a sense of community within the student body.
· Expose students to cultural programs.
· Initiate and explain tutorial services.
· Apply thinking skills to math, chemistry, and problem solving
· Provide assistance with financial aid.
· Make peer counseling contacts.
· Assign mentors and assign graded mentor discussion topics.
I think that it is important for us as student affairs
professionals to be aware of the first-generation college student.
This population accounts for a very large number of our students,
but I think they go unrecognized. We need to do a better job of
identifying this at-risk population. This group of students will
encounter the normal developmental issues that all freshman and
transfer student's face, but they have less chance of navigating
through them without our support. It is very important that faculty
and staff make themselves aware of the needs of our multicultural
population, because they need an equal opportunity to succeed and
many of these students are the first in their families to attend
college. I think that we should start connecting these students to
college while they are still in high school, and have very
intentional programs that allow them to get integrated into our
campuses. Most importantly I think we should do all of these
programs for ALL students regardless of their risk. If we would just
show equal care and concern to everyone that chooses our schools,
then maybe we could get rid of the term at-risk. Thank you.
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theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel,
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