May 18, 2015

Diversity in Academe: First-Generation Students

If you're a low-income student whose parents never earned a degree, simply getting to college is hard enough. You probably didn't get much help from your parents, let alone from pricey private counselors or test-prep courses. And once you enroll, you've got a bunch of new stuff to figure out — like what to study or maybe even how to study. You may need to take remedial courses. You may feel work and family pressures. And if you're at a selective college, you may feel left out when your classmates travel abroad or work in unpaid internships.This special report focuses on the challenges facing first-generation students, whose numbers are growing as demographics shift.

Our report also looks at efforts underway on some campuses to help such students. Says a spokeswoman for Hamilton College, which has several such initiatives: "It's not just about access. It's about equalizing the experience once students get to campus."

Colleges amp up efforts to retain them, but hurdles remain.

Hamilton College gives special consideration to students who break family barriers by pursuing a higher education.

The program begins with a summer session for incoming freshmen and continues with special classes and social opportunities.

Near the border with Mexico, a program helps first-generation students pursue careers in the sciences.

Saint Mary’s College of California helps out when family issues, racial taunting, and other challenges threaten to derail an education.

At community colleges, 30 percent of students are parents, and the availability of care can make or break their educational dreams.

Virginia Yans, of Rutgers University, talks about her enjoyment in working with candidates from a range of backgrounds.

For some students, college is a portal from one social class to another, and the transition can be rough.

The professor with all the degrees used to be a girl with gritty nails who worked at the factory.

Too often, colleges take their tuition money, then leave them floundering.

Such programs could be more sensitive to low-income and other students who haven't traveled much.

A first-generation college student, now in graduate school at Yale, transferred from a community college in California to Amherst.

The ability to overcome challenges is often framed as individual achievement when it’s anything but.