Episode 125: Colleges Serving First-Generation-to-College Students

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

Welcome back to our Colleges in the Spotlight series. Last week, we focused on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)–where the campus student population must be at least 25 percent Latino, with more than half financially needy–and the good work that they have been doing to smooth the way for Latino/Latina students, many of whom are the first generation in their families to attend college. Kudos again to UC Irvine for its excellent programs and services for Latino/Latina students!

Today’s episode picks up from where last week’s left off. This episode will look at a couple of colleges that do a good job of providing services for first-generation-to-college students. And let us remind you to take a glance back at Episode 103, where we describe the truly outstanding work that Georgia State University has been doing to serve its black students, many of whom are first-generation-to-college students. We couldn’t have been more impressed.

Before we turn to the colleges in the spotlight today, please remember to go to amazon.com and get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. It’s a user-friendly way to help your teenager investigate colleges of interest to him or her–perfect for current or recent high school juniors who are getting ready to apply to college next year. What a way to spend the summer: reading our book and doing the homework we assign! As we said last week, we are offering a money-back guarantee if the book doesn’t help your teenager.

1. The Context for First-Generation-to College Students

Let’s look at the context in which first-generation-to-college students go to college, thanks to a comprehensive article written by Eilene Zimmerman on June 7 in The New York Times: 

First-generation students mostly come from low- to middle-income families, are disproportionally Hispanic and African-American and have little, if any, information about their higher education options. As a result, they often have misconceptions and anxiety about attending college. 

College counselors can help these students deal with the complexity of the college preparation and application process. Yet few public high schools serving significant numbers of low-income and first-generation students have anywhere near enough counselors. 

According to the 2015 State of College Admissions report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, counselors at public high schools are, on average, each responsible for 436 students, and those counselors spend only 22 percent of their time on pre-college counseling. (quoted from the article)

Well, this is a refrain that our listeners have heard many times here at USACollegeChat and that our readers have read in our books. Public high school counselors–even those public high schools with dedicated college counselors–cannot begin to do what they need to do for each student, especially for first-generation-to-college students who are likely to need additional help and advice. Public high school counselors absolutely do not have the time necessary to do this work, and too many of them do not have the background knowledge and up-to-date information necessary to do this work. It is no wonder that these kids come to college with the “misconceptions and anxiety” that Ms. Zimmerman refers to in her article.

And here are some more facts, according to Ms. Zimmerman’s article:

About one-third of undergraduates in colleges in the United States are first-generation students, according [to] the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and the United States Department of Education. (quoted from the article)

Let us stop right there for a minute. One-third of college undergraduates are first-generation-to-college students! We think that number is actually quite extraordinary. It means that colleges are indeed bringing in new students from many backgrounds (although we know that any number of experts believe that colleges should do even more to reach out to such students). Frankly, I would have guessed that the number would have been lower. But here is the more troubling news:

Only 27 percent [of first-generation students] earn a college degree in four years, compared with 42 percent of students with parents who went to college, according to a report from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Without a college degree, children of low-income parents are likely to be low-income adults, and their earning potential will only get worse over time. An analysis by the Georgetown center predicted that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the United States would require postsecondary education and training. (quoted from the article)

Let’s look right past the sad fact that only 42 percent of students with parents who went to college manage to earn a college degree in four years. That’s bad enough, and we have talked about unsatisfactory graduation rates several times here at USACollegeChat. We have even talked about the idea that actually graduating in four years is one of the best ways to cut college costs for every student at every type of college.

The fact that only 27 percent of first-generation-to-college students manage to earn a college degree in four years is indeed concerning. And, for these kids, it likely means that some additional counseling or support of other kinds might help raise that figure to at least the lackluster 42 percent scored by other kids.

2. Spotlight on Services for First-Generation Students

You should read Ms. Zimmerman’s article to get the full anecdotes about the colleges we will mention now as well as their success statistics. The stories are worth reading in their entirety. But let’s look at a few briefly:

. . . Aspire [is] a program [Dennis] Di Lorenzo created two years ago [at New York University]. It was influenced by a study of 20 public schools in New York City’s lower-income neighborhoods that found graduation rates suffering and a huge variance in college-readiness programs. Aspire aims to give students information about higher education, the application process and financial aid, and prepare them academically for the transition to college.

The free, two-year program serves 40 high school juniors, who attend a weeklong program each summer at N.Y.U. There are also classes and workshops throughout the school year that offer leadership training, advanced math instruction, assistance with college essay preparation, and discussions about careers, scholarships and college majors. In addition, students are connected to a group of college student mentors. (quoted from the article)

Ms. Zimmerman tells the story of one senior who stayed in a room on the 22nd floor of an NYU campus dorm for the weeklong program. It was the young man’s first time in a college dorm and, more significantly, the first time sleeping away from home and the first time having a roommate from outside his family. Imagine how eye-opening that experience must have been for that young man and how much it must have helped him to see what attending a great private university–or really any university–might be like.

Let’s move the spotlight slightly west and take a look at Rutgers University, New Jersey’s public flagship university. The Rutgers Future Scholars program identifies “promising” first-generation, low-income students in the seventh grade in four urban school districts–Newark, New Brunswick, Piscataway, and Camden. Students are selected for their academic performance as well as for their participation in their communities and schools. “We look for the ‘if only’ students, those who are on the cusp of doing remarkable things but need that additional support system in their life,” said program director Aramis Gutierrez.

Once identified, these students “receive academic support and enrichment, and mentoring from Future Scholars participants who are now in college. They attend classes after school, on weekends and during the summer. No student is ever expelled from the program for poor grades or lagging attendance.” (quoted from the article) Rather, they are given a second chance, after appropriate intervention by faculty members. And, by the way, those Future Scholars who go on the attend Rutgers, get free tuition on top of everything else. The undocumented students in the program have their tuition paid by private donors. Special kudos to those donors!

NYU has another interesting program that picks students up a bit later in their school careers. Let’s look finally at that program, called Access:

First-generation students who graduate from high school but haven’t prepared for (or enrolled in) college can attend an N.Y.U. bridge program known as Access, which prepares them for college by providing academic remediation, tutoring and help with career development and job search skills. Students also earn 24 college credits that will transfer to a four-year institution.

The Access program began in the fall of 2016 with eight students; half will be attending college this fall. Unlike Aspire, Access is not free, Mr. Di Lorenzo said, but costs $15,000 for the year. (Aid and scholarships are available.) (quoted from the article)

While $15,000 is indeed not free, it is, nonetheless, a bargain if a student can earn 24 college credits plus get whatever remedial help he or she needs to bridge the gap into college.

3. What Next?

While NYU and Rutgers deserve credit for these programs aimed at improving the odds of success for first-generation-to-college students, it is clear that many more such programs are needed. If you have a teenager at home who will be the first to attend college in your family, looking for a college with services for kids like yours is important.

I am guessing that information about those services might not always be as easy to find on a college website as you might wish. So, look hard. Talk to a staff member in the admissions office of each college your teenager is considering and ask specifically about academic and personal support and other counseling services for first-generation-to-college students. Why? Because we would like your teenager to be one of the 27 percent of first-generation-to-college students to get a college degree in four years. And, by the way, we also would like that 27 percent figure to get much higher very fast.

Find our books on Amazon!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode125
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

Connect with us through…

Download this episode!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *