The barriers to college that have nothing to do with cost

Cost is the most commonly discussed challenge for low-income, first-generation students, but they face a range of other barriers as well, Keila Szpaller writes for The Missoulian.

First-generation students might be intimidated by the myriad of jargon terms and acronyms that face them as soon as they start to apply for college, according to Twila Old Coyote, Interim Director of Upward Bound at the University of Montana.

Many first-generation students report that "FAFSA" is one of the terms that confused them when they arrived on campus—which may help explain why students lose out on an estimated billions of dollars in federal aid each year by not filling out the form.

Two ways to help first-generation students navigate your college's 'hidden curriculum'

Another reason low-income students may not be interested in college is a lack of clarity about career paths, experts say.

"If they don't know clearly what they want to do and see that pathway really clearly, I think a lot of them are really struggling to make that financial commitment," says Vanessa Gibson, a counselor at Big Sky High School in Montana.

The University of Montana has helped  low-income and first-generation students through Upward Bound and TRiO. Starting right before they begin high school, Upward Bound helps students from families that are low income or who did not earn college degrees, with applying to scholarships and colleges, Szpaller reports. The students also spend time on a college campus during the summer months.

"I think the biggest thing our students get from our program is self-confidence,"  Old Coyote says, referring to her program at the University of Minnesota.

How does a four year degree become a six-and-a-half year degree?

Upward Bound boasts some impressive results. Over 95% of Upward Bound's students earn a high school diploma and 75% of them attend college immediately after high school, Szpaller writes.

And TRiO students retain in college at higher rates than their peers who do not enter the programs. TRiO freshmen have an 84% retention rate to their sophomore year, compared with a 73% average freshmen-to-sophomore retention rate at the University of Montana (Szpaller, The Missoulian, 6/16).

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