What does good support for first-gen students look like?

I recently read the article “First-Generation College-Goers: Unprepared and Behind” in the Atlantic.

A few lines about Yale stood out to me. The author quoted Christian Vazquez, a first-gen Yale graduate. He says, ‘There’s a lot of support at Yale, to an extent, after a while, there’s too much support,’ he said, half-jokingly about the myriad resources available at the school.’”

We learn a bit more about Yale’s support systems, “Students are placed in small cohorts with counselors (trained seniors on campus); they have access to cultural and ethnic affinity groups, tutoring centers and also have a summer orientation specifically for first-generation students (the latter being one of the most common programs for students).”

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10 things to consider about first-generation students

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First-generation UChicago at November 18 event with Kevin Jennings.

A few weeks ago Kevin Jennings, the founder of the Harvard First Generation Alumni group and mentoring program, came to the University of Chicago to give a talk about first-gen students at selective colleges. Based on the talk, I made this list of the top 10 things people should consider about first-gen students, particularly at more selective colleges.

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First-Generation Students and Social Class Links

Make Admissions at Elite Colleges ‘Access Aware’

The president of Grinnell College argues that need-blind admissions do not necessarily lead to a socioeconomically diverse student body. Elite college admissions are largely shaped to reward students that already have the most advantages, which disadvantages low-income students without access to certain resources. Considering need during admissions might actually allow admissions officers to better evaluate students based on the resources allotted to them and not based on the resources they just didn’t have available to them.

Do not neglect the ladder of opportunity at minority-serving colleges

A few faculty and staff of the City College of New York stress the importance of investing in minority-serving colleges. Access initiatives lately have largely emphasized the need to send more low-income students to elite colleges. Elite colleges are idealized as the solutions for students. However, this fails to address the larger problem of lack of investment in many other institutions that already serve a large percentage of minority students. Why not focus on the potential instead of opting for the simplistic solution of funneling low-income students into a set number of elite schools?

Handling down our crowns

Yesenia Arroyo, a student at Princeton, offers a critique of the notion that students shouldn’t pursue a high-paying job after graduation because it hurts the middle class. As a low-income first-generation student, Arroyo says that her education is largely motivated by the possibility of helping her family reach financial stability. While personal fulfillment is often emphasized in educational pursuit, Arroyo says that some students don’t have the luxury of making their education about only themselves.

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Why schools should have a Class Awareness Month

Stanford Class Awareness Week in 2012.
Stanford Class Awareness Week in 2012.

Columbia University’s Quest Scholars Network put a spin on November, dubbing it “Class Awareness Month.” Throughout the month of November and the end of October, Quest Scholars and various other campus organizations presented several events related to socioeconomic background on campus.

The conversations ranged from open conversations on the low-income student experience to discussions about social class in Africa. With a growing push to get low-income students to elite colleges, students have started to raise awareness about the barriers they face once at these colleges. Stanford University’s student group also dedicates a week to class issues in the spring. The more students talk about these issues, the more administrators will take notice of an invisible minority. Continue reading

Princeton Low-Income Students Form “Hidden Minority Council”

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The Princeton University campus in Princeton, New Jersey.

Across the country, low-income students are gaining momentum at different elite colleges. It’s no coincidence that it’s happening now, as efforts to get low-income students into top colleges increase. Questbridge and Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) are just two of the organizations helping to get students to Princeton. With a bigger population, common issues are more likely to come to light.

In the last academic year, several articles focusing on low-income and first-generation students were published in the Princeton school newspaper. The articles ranged from firsthand accounts from students to an analysis on socioeconomic diversity from a professor.

While each of the students uniquely recalled their upbringing and journey to Princeton, they each had one thing in common: the social and economic barriers they faced once on campus.

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First-generation Student Links

October 9, 2014: Employment expectations no enriching experience by Chayenne Mia

This article is written by a Columbia University student who makes the case for eliminating the work study requirement for low-income students at Columbia, as the University of Chicago recently did.

October 15, 2014: Colleges differ in “first-generation” definitions by Zoe Hardwick

The definition of “first-generation” varies from college to college. This article discusses Dartmouth’s definition, as well as of other schools in the Ivy League.
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