How Can First-Generation College Students Succeed?

Approximately one-third of individuals pursuing post-secondary education are first-generation students. This population has a more difficult road ahead, as they can’t rely on experience from family to help them along the way.

First-generation students often hail from low-income households and are required to work while attending school, in order to finance their education. Juggling work and the demands of college simultaneously can often be grueling, leading to decreased attention to classwork. About 90 percent of first-generation lower-income students will not graduate within six years.

The Dell Scholars program connects roughly 1,500 college students nationwide with mentors who aid in navigating the world of higher education. Research has indicated that regular check-ins and advice from mentors can drastically improve the odds of success for first-generation students.

Eric Bettinger of Stanford University conducted a study in 2011 that observed 13,000 student records and noted that when students participated in coaching and mentoring programs, 10 to 15 percent were more likely to advance another year in college. The study found a 4 percent increase in graduation rates for students receiving mentored coaching.

Several demographic populations are more likely to be first-generation college students. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 25 percent of white and Asian Americans were the first in their families to attend college, while 41 percent of black and 61 percent of Hispanics were first-generation pupils.

Despite civil rights legislation and diversity programs, inequality in education still clearly exists. Research has shown that employing a diverse faculty and training them on how best to interact with and teach minority students can have a positive impact on the success of first-generation undergraduates. Additionally, summer programs aimed at incoming freshman can help ease first-generation learners into the college culture and curriculum. These programs are offered at several universities free of charge and link students with mentors to begin to foster constructive relationships early on.

There is work to be done to get more first-generation college students to that graduation stage but the acknowledgement that this group needs an extra push is a start.

As more colleges focus on addressing the challenges that face first-generation students, retention levels will rise, eventually leading to increased overall graduation rates.



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