First-generation students face many obstacles in getting into college and in completing their education. Our college and universities are also struggling to improve their recruitment of first-generation students and, once they are there, retain them and help them advance to graduation and beyond.
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.
We hope that this discussion guide may provide a map for for those interested in discussing and exploring the challenges and contrasting policy possibilities for promoting the success of first generation college students.