For many people, admission into college means great progress for the family and the community. However, college admission comes with many challenges for first-generation students, such as lack of enough finances and lack of academic preparation. Many of these students arrive at campus with high hopes and high confidence levels mixed with anxiety about the new environment and naivety about large institutions (Collins 140). This paper will focus on the implications that first-generation students face and the solutions to these problems to ensure they achieve academic and personal success. There are two main problems that first-generation students experience firsthand when they get to college: identity issues and academic and social integration.
A large number of first-generation students face identity issues in the first or the whole four years of college (Collins 140). First-generation students are easily identified in their dress, their accented languages, and their eagerness to learn (Nunez and Carroll 74). Most of the traits and behaviors, including their cultures that set these students apart from other students, are often ignored or overlooked. These students feel as if they have to hide these parts of themselves to fit into the college society. It is often the same situation at home (Nunez and Carroll 74). These students have to leave their school mannerisms at the doorstep when they reach home. In Richard Rodriguez’s ‘The achievement of desire,’ Rodriguez’s classroom experiences make him hide his true identity beneath layers of embarrassment. He is reading in the British Museum one day when he stumbles upon a description of himself as a first-generation student in Richard Hoggart's 'The Uses of Literacy.' Rodriguez reads about how a scholarship boy (first-generation student in this case) must move between home and school environments, which are described as cultural extremes. At home, the boy enjoys familial intimacy, and he is consoled on his public alienation in school. He is also encouraged to embrace "spontaneity and non-rational ways of thinking" At school, the boy has to rely solely on lonely reason and has to practice mental calmness.
Academic and Social Integration
First-generation students are less likely to be fully prepared academically when they are admitted to college than their peers whose parents have college degrees (Engle 25). Research conducted shows that these students are less likely to take Advanced Placement courses, which help them make college decisions. They also have lower cognitive skills and critical thinking. In 'On Becoming Educated, ' Joy Castro describes the theorists' English as foreign and filled with jargon and abstractions at which she can only guess. She cannot understand their sentences or recognize their references and has a hard time understanding what they mean and how it is all connected to feminist theory. One evening while in class, the discussion shifts to Stephen Greenblatt, a Renaissance scholar whom Castro knows nothing about. The professor asks the class' opinion on Stephen Greenblatt. Castro responds by asking the professor to concentrate on issues to do with women. This draws some reactions from the class, particularly one girl who tells Castro that she cannot just ignore Stephen Greenblatt. Due to Castro's lack of preparation for the course, she cannot make the connection between Stephen Greenblatt and feminist theory while the other students can.
First-generation students also face problems in social interaction. Most of them do not socialize with students or staff outside of class. They also do not take part in extracurricular activities such as social clubs. They do not take part in these activities so that their academic lives are not 'distracted.'
Lack of enough funds for college is another major challenge that first-generation students face. In 'On Becoming Educated,' Joy Castro faces financial hardships during her time in college. She is a single mother who earns $10, 000 a year, which is too small an amount to support her education and her child. Castro is concerned about why there isn't any mention of people like her who face such hardships. This issue is also echoed in Rodriguez' 'Achievement of Desire,' where Richard's mother asks him why he wants to put them through the big expense of leaving home for college when he knows the scholarship money will not be able to cover the entire costs.
SOLUTIONS TO THESE PROBLEMS
Collaboration between high schools and colleges
There are several ways in which the challenges these first-generation students face can be solved. First, there should be a collaboration between colleges and high schools to offer support for under-prepared students. This collaboration should help these students take the Advancement Placement course to increase their chances of being admitted into college, which will, in turn, increase their chances of graduating from college. Colleges should establish programs that help first-generation college students and low-income families acquire funds to ensure they stay in school and graduate.
Easier transition into college
Transition into college should be made easier for first-generation college students. This can be done by the parents and the high school teachers of these students. These students should be reassured that they belong on campus; they also have the capabilities to succeed in college. Bridge and orientation programs go a long way in helping students transition into the college scene. These programs help finalize these students with the college environment. Staff at college can also arrange for support groups for these types of students who share common backgrounds.
Full parental support
Parents have a significant role in ensuring their children make it to college and graduate on time. They can do this by helping to ease the challenges these students face when they first get to college. Parents should encourage their children to form aspirations for college. Their level of education should not matter; programs should be established by colleges to reach out to parents of first-generation college students. These programs should guide the parents on the type of support they should give to their children and how they can show their support.
Collins, Sean T. There are days I wonder: first-generation college students' search for cultural membership in higher education. Diss. University of Vermont, 2000.
Engle, Jennifer. "Postsecondary access and success for first-generation college students." American academic 3.1 (2007): 25-48.
Nunez, Anne-Marie, and Stephanie Cuccaro-Alamin. First-Generation Students: Undergraduates Whose Parents Never Enrolled in Postsecondary Education. Statistical Analysis Report. Postsecondary Education Descriptive Analysis Reports. 1998
“On Becoming Educated.” Joy Castro | S&F Online | Polyphonic Feminisms, sfonline.barnard.edu/polyphonic/castro_01.htm.
Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: the Education of Richard Rodriguez: an Autobiography. Bantam Books, 2005.
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