Sue Goodney Lea, Ph.D., a Fellow at IF, is working with Nneka Edwards, an IF Project Coordinator, to develop a First Generation Students: Possibilities for Success discussion project. Many foundations and non-profits are working to get more underrepresented students into and through college. The Lumina Foundation has articulated an ambitious goal: challenging our nation to commit to enrolling and graduating 60% of U.S. citizens from a high-quality, post-secondary degree program by the year 2025. As those who work with first generation students know, there are many challenges that our nation and, especially, our post-secondary school systems will face in meeting that goal. Two of the largest are (1) generating demand for higher education among segments of the population that do not have backgrounds in higher education; and (2) developing alternative and innovative approaches to meet that new demand.
For the many parents in this country who do not themselves have a college degree, the idea of sending a child off to school is daunting: college is expensive but, even more than that, it can create physical and social distances that can intimidate many working-class families. Still, as many as 85% of parents do want their children to attend college, and finding the right school is essential to a student’s success. Many first generation students begin their studies at a community college and can find themselves behind in meeting the expected curriculum track for their anticipated major once they transfer to a four-year college. This may cause the student either to give up on pursuing their chosen major or to spend one to two more years in college than they had planned to spend. High school counselors often lack the resources to adequately guide first generation students towards more competitive institutions, as helping these students gain entry into and fund a college education can be a complicated endeavor. And, once a first generation student arrives at college, he or she may feel as if s/he has arrived in the Promised Land—but without a map.
The Interactivity Foundation (IF) is committed to developing policy possibilities that address a range of social concerns by creating opportunities for experts and lay citizens to come together to develop policy approaches that could address a particular social issue. We emphasize civility in all of our discussions by inviting participants to share a meal during their conversation, as we firmly believe that deliberative discussions which incorporate and genuinely consider a range of views are essential to the health of our democracy. Our projects work with groups in elucidating a wide range of concerns about a particular social problem and then try to imagine a contrasting array of approaches by which to address those concerns, while considering the potential impact of enacting those approaches. Project groups meet monthly over the course of about a year. The resulting discussion guide is then discussed by other citizens via small, public discussion groups that meet over the course of three weeks to talk about a report’s possibilities. We look forward to including many community and universities in the development and eventual use of the First Generation Students discussion guide. If you are interested in learning more about how your community or school could use this discussion guide, please contact Dr. Lea at [email protected].