How colleges give first-generation students a support network

First-generation college students benefit greatly from having an established support system in place on campus for them, writes Eilene Zimmerman for the New York Times.

First-generation students tend to come from lower-income families and are disproportionately Hispanic and African-American. Only about 27% of them graduate from college within four years, compared with 42% for non-first generation college students, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

One of the biggest challenges facing first-generation students could be that they have relatively few adults in their lives who can help them prepare for college. Their families often have little information about being a college student. And a report released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that public high school counselors only spend about 22% of their time with students on college preparation.

"If not for my own motivation to go to college, I would not have been able to carve out a traditional experience for myself," says Dennis Di Lorenzo, the dean of New York University's School of Professional Studies and the first in his family to attend college.

To make up for the lack of mentors, some colleges are building support networks for first-generation students.

The Future Scholars program at Rutgers University finds promising young people in the state and provides them with mentoring, academic support, and enrichment from 7th grade all the way to college graduation. Instead of expelling students for a downturn in their academic performance, faculty work with students to address underlying issues.

Future Scholars has achieved encouraging results. Over half of the program's students attend four-year colleges, many of them tuition-free at Rutgers, and about 20% enroll at community colleges.

A bridge program at New York University called Access prepares first-generation students for college. Students receive tutoring, academic remediation, career and job development, and earn 24 college credits along the way.

The program started in fall 2016, and half of the program's initial eight students are headed to college this fall.

There are federal programs that serve first-generation students, such as Upward Bound. But these programs aren't large enough to accommodate all the students that need them, according to Andrew Nichols, director of higher education research at the Education Trust.

And demand may only increase as employers look for more skilled workers. According to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, 65% of jobs will require education or training beyond high school by 2020 (Zimmerman, New York Times, 6/7).


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