Roughly a third of undergraduates at U.S. universities are the first in their families to attend college. That is exactly the case for Aldine ISD 2016 graduate Iván Delgado. He currently attends Texas A&M.
The article, sponsored by Texas A&M, in The Atlantic centers on how the right kinds of support from their universities, first generation or Gen-F students can establish a lifetime of success. They can also blaze the trail for others back home.
Below are excerpts from the full article.
Most Gen-F students are from low-income families and disadvantaged communities in the U.S. and abroad. The prospect of paying for college can be overwhelming.
Iván talked to his high school advisor. She connected him with scholarships at Texas A&M University.
There are other factors that low-income students may have to address. Many find they are often behind academically. This means taking remedial courses before courses that count toward a degree. Adding to that frustration are the social challenges involved in the transition to a college campus.
Dropping out leaves Gen-F students with dim prospects. The unemployment rate among high school graduates is nearly triple that of college graduates. Those who drop out or never attend college will earn salaries far below their colleagues with degrees. College graduates will make 80 percent more in lifetime income.
Gen-F students need a combination of financial, academic, and emotional support in college. This is why universities have started to offer resources designed to increase the Gen-F graduation rate.
Texas A&M offer the Summer Bridge Program. It eases the University’s 13,000 first-generation students into the campus environment. Participants get a summer head start on coursework. Consistent tutoring and mentoring throughout the year can also help close the academic gap. For Iván, tutoring has already made a huge difference. He was frequently studying until three or four o’clock in the morning during his first few weeks at school. He says that without tutoring he is sure he would be behind.
Financial and academic resources are most successful when combined with social and psychological support. Some Gen-F students experience guilt about having the opportunity to attend college. Others who experience difficulty in classes don’t seek help. They feel a strong sense of guilt that makes them feel they have to navigate college on their own. They simply don’t want to overburden their families. Students don’t want them to know how great a challenge college can be.
College students should build a support system. This gives them the confidence they need to embrace their college experience. It can lead them to begin to expand their horizons. For example, they may consider a study abroad program. Such programs can open their eyes to a broader worldview. Universities are increasingly recognizing the benefits and expanding study abroad opportunities for Gen-F students.
Gen-F students should join several groups. Student organizations and extracurricular activities can help undergrads focus. They can also develop their leadership skills. Research shows that taking part in extracurricular activities makes adaptation to campus life easier. Participation in these activities also correlates strongly with graduation rates.
When Gen-F students get the support they need and excel, this can set off a wave of ripple effects. This can reach their classmates, friends, families, and communities. Though graduation rates among Gen-F students are still low, they have improved. The graduation rate has increased by 6 percent over the last decade. Universities also have an enormous resource in first-generation alumni. Gen-F alumni can mentor current Gen-F students toward graduation. They make donations, add to endowments, or even become university faculty themselves.
Their contributions to life on campus can begin as early as freshman year. Iván, for one, is already thinking about guiding other students through the college process.
“I know a lot of people in my community whose goal is to go to A&M,” he says. “I want to help them as much as I can.”
Doing well in engineering track now means more to Iván than just getting a degree or even a good career. He now wants to set an example for family members and friends back home.
“I want to let them know that anything is possible,” says Iván. “To give them a little bit of hope.”
Director of Written Communication & Spanish Media
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