“The Reality of First-Generation Students in Higher Education"
College Writing 2, Dr. Thomas McNamara
Although there were many motives behind the construction of this piece, I believe the desire to truly figure out who I am played the greatest role in why I chose this topic. I have noticed throughout the years that the most successful people in life are those that know themselves the best; their own strengths, their own weaknesses, and everything in between. Gaining more insight in this area has allowed me to learn about the struggles of others who come from similar circumstances to mine. Throughout the process, I have allowed myself to have a true and genuine connection with each individual that participated in this study. I am grateful for the information they shared with me as it has allowed me to grow in ways no person could ever understand unless they were in our shoes. There is beauty in every struggle in life; I plan to make a beautiful ending out of the magnificent struggles I have gone through as a first-generation student.
Excerpt from “The Reality of First-Generation Students in Higher Education”
“With the United States being so diverse in cultures and integrated with people from all over the world, many first-generation students are formed. According to an article titled “First-Generation College Student Opportunities and Challenges,” it is stated that 30% of all entering freshmen are the first in their family to attend college. In addition, only 11% of those who commence their post-secondary education at two-year institutions have gone on to acquire a baccalaureate degree. These students are unique in various aspects that can both enhance their motivation to succeed but also make it extremely difficult to do so. Lack of experience is the foundation of all struggles that this demographic of students has to go through. Parents that have migrated from foreign countries often have no experience with postsecondary education. They cannot offer much support when it comes down to facing the many hardships that an undergraduate student faces on a daily basis. These foundational difficulties are only part of the reason as to why first-generation students find it difficult to succeed in the post-secondary educational environment.”
The Reality of First-Generation Students in Higher Education
by Anthony Moreno
According to an article titled “First generation college student opportunities and challenges,” it is stated that 30% of all entering freshmen are the first in their family to attend college. In addition, only 11% of those who commence their post-secondary education at two-year institutions have gone on to acquire a baccalaureate degree. These students are unique in various aspects that can both enhance their motivation to succeed but also make it extremely difficult to do so. Lack of experience is the foundation of all struggles that this demographic of students have to go through. Parents that have migrated from foreign countries often have no experience with postsecondary education. They cannot offer much support when it comes down to facing the many hardships that an undergraduate student faces on a daily basis. These foundational difficulties are only part of the reason as to why first-generation students find it difficult to succeed in the post-secondary educational environment.
Here at Lewis, the student population is very diverse with students that come from very unique backgrounds. On the Lewis University website under “Admission and aid,” it is stated that the fall freshman 2019 class consists of 40.4% minority students. In addition, it is also stated that 33% of the overall student body at Lewis is comprised of first-generation students. The importance of addressing the success of first-generation (and oftentimes minority) students is crucial to the overall success of Lewis University's student body as a whole.
In this study, I focus my research on an epidemic that has struck the educational world for decades: the hardships and difficulties that first-generation students go through while obtaining their baccalaureate degree. As a first-generation student myself, I found it necessary to research the core of who I am in the postsecondary education world. I found many things relatable when it came to the research I was able to accumulate. Surprisingly, throughout my primary research, I was also able to gain even more information in regard to Lewis University's efforts towards this demographic of students that I had no insight to prior to commencing my research. I will present my findings in a manner that both expresses the new insights I’ve been enlightened with in addition to the core question of what my research has been inspired by: What struggles do first-generation, minority students face when attending a university such as Lewis University?
The research undertaken in this study was approved and done through the guidelines of Lewis University's Institutional Review Board (IRB). Through my work, I was able to gather interviews from five differing first-generation students who had unique experiences to one another. Of the three males and two females who participated, three were commuters, one was a resident, and another is currently a commuter but has been a resident of Lewis University in the past. These participants represent Lewis University's minority group well simply because all go through different challenges through their upbringings and all offer varying outlooks in their experiences as first-generation students.
The first primary source I was able to acquire was an interview conducted on a female, first-generation student who is currently in her third semester of college. We can refer to her as “Abigail.” As a sophomore, Abigail is currently listed as undecided but plans on majoring in biology as she desires to become an Optometrist. Throughout the interview, she gave many points of reference as to how being a first-generation student has affected her academic and overall success. She also explains how growing up in a family where post-secondary education was not promoted has allowed her to clearly see what she truly wants for herself. For example, when asking her what made her want to attend college, she responded, “I feel like your parents are always telling you that they want the best for you and I feel that can only be accomplished if I were to study. I've seen what my parents have gone through because they never attended college; I’ve seen their struggles. I want to better myself.” Throughout the rest of the interview, Abigail also alludes as to how the lack of knowledge her parents possess about college has made things all the more difficult. She explains how in high school it was easy to get by; however, in college there are many more things that must be done such as financial aid and FAFSA which she basically had to do on her own since her parents do not speak English. She explains how the pressures of making huge, life-changing decisions on her own was scary. Abigail's narrative allows us to explore a unique perspective in the life of a, for the most part, struggling first-generation student.
The second primary source of my research was an additional interview conducted on another female, first-generation student in her fifth semester as a Junior. We can refer to her as “Lily.” As a commuter and a resident in the past, Lily is a part of the Lewis University Nursing program, aspiring to become a future Registered Nurse. In explaining her personal experiences, she was not scared to share raw information that truly has impacted her life as a first-generation student. Her diction and the manner in which she spoke truly showed her passion when it comes to being a first-generation student for her family. For instance, after asking her if being a first generation-student has impacted her education in any way, Lily explained, “Yes. Coming into college, I had no idea what FAFSA was nor did I know how to complete it. In terms of registration for college, it was scary to see the first bill because I had no idea college was this expensive. Managing money was something I had to learn how to do. I had no choice. Academically, I didn't know how many hours was expected out of students to study.” As the conversation progressed, she gave specific examples as to how her father literally could not help her in certain situations. When bringing him to a FAFSA workshop, he was scared because he had no idea what would be expected of him although it was all information regarding himself. Lily also explains her working situation as she is a manager at McDonalds. She gives light to the fact that her and her family are still trying to pay off the house. Her parents don't ask, nor do they expect her to work but she feels the need to help out around the house because seeing her parents financially struggle is hard to witness. The experiences of Lily really shine light on the aspect of financial burdens when coming from a family that lack college education.
In my final three interviews for this research, a new way of approaching the reality of being a first-generation student was upheld. The last three interviews were on three male, first-generation students who all play on the Lewis University Men's soccer team. We can refer to these three as Juan, Javier, and Charlie. All three males expressed the difficulties in their personal narratives while being a first-generation student at a four-year institution. However, they seemed to have a more motivational outlook on their situations. Juan stated “I see it as an opportunity. I have opportunities that my parents didn't have so I’m taking it as a positive aspect in my life. I wouldn't necessarily say it’s made things more difficult. I just approach in a way where I have to work harder than other students.” In Javier's interview, he responded “I feel like it has impacted my life both in a positive way and a negative way. When it came to looking for colleges, my family wasn't experienced in that situation. It was hard for us to figure that out. It’s positive for me because I like experiencing new things and this is the way to do it.” Lastly, Charlie explained “For the most part, it's been positive. A lot of my family members look up to me; they see me as a role model or someone to look up to and follow in my footsteps. One of the downsides is that it's a lot of pressure at times because like I said before, everyone's looking up to you....” As all first-generation students, these three participants shined light on various aspects that make it difficult to be in such a frightening position. However, Charlie brings up a viewpoint that not many first-generation students bring up when speaking on their position: the pressure. The pressure of these students is an aspect that can diminish the optimization of these students’ capabilities. For example, in a study by Rebecca Covarrubias and Stephanie Fryberg, they discuss “family achievement guilt,” the feeling an individual experiences when given better opportunities or having achieved more success than family members before them. It was found that first-generation and Latino students suffered from family achievement guilt at higher rates than white and continuing-education students. Although the pressures that Charlie describes is different from the pressures described in the article, they both show the mental distress that comes with being in such a position of high expectations.
Lastly, throughout my research, it struck me that each interviewee had an opinion on a topic that I never considered to think about before commencing my research: Lewis University's efforts towards this demographic of students’ success. As a first-generation student who plays on the Men's soccer team while being a commuter, I rarely have enough free time to enjoy the college experience. With this being said, I initially thought Lewis was doing a poor job at supporting underrepresented students. However, my participants stated otherwise. I asked all five interviewees if they felt underrepresented students are adequately supported on campus and these were their responses: Abigail stated “I think they are. I feel like all minorities have their own type of clubs. Our school is very diverse.” Lily responded “I barely started to see it until this year. Over the summer they talked about Polish club and Black student association. It’s something I didn't really notice my freshman year.” Juan said, “I feel like we are supported on campus. We are offered a lot of academic and financial support. I feel like we’re definitely taken into consideration.” Javier mentioned “I feel like they are, but they just don't think they are being supported because they don't know about all the resources they have.” Lastly, Charlie voiced that “At times I feel like they seem a little overshadowed because I hardly hear about them, but I feel like some frats here on campus lean towards minority students. I've checked them out and they all seem welcoming. I hear there's also a Latino Unidos group which I think is really good. I know other frats accommodate to other cultures and backgrounds.” In addition, each interviewee mentioned resources such as the writing center and the library as assets that help them be more successful in their everyday struggles as first-generation students. It is clearly stated by each interviewee that their experiences on campus are far different than mine. I feel like I personally struggled with what Javier mentioned in his response; I simply was not aware of the abundance of resources that Lewis offers to students such as myself.
First-generation students are all pioneers in their own way. Each and every one is battling personal conflicts that make it extremely difficult to come out victorious in this hike of Mount Everest that we call “College.” Furthermore, through careful examination and research, I have noticed common trends of struggle among first-generation, minority students. The main factor that contributes to these struggles is simple: lack of knowledge and lack of experience from family members before. This one factor stems off and contributes to an abundance of other hardships in areas such as financial aid, academic support, and language barriers. In addition, being a first-generation student comes with the difficulties of battling the mental struggles of being in a position of such high pressures. These pressures and the rest of the struggles forced upon this demographic of students makes it nearly impossible for them to be the best student they can possibly become. At Lewis University, first-generation students make up more than ⅓ of the student population. The emphasis of supporting these students and ensuring their success is crucial to not only the current student body of Lewis but the success of generations after these students to come. I had my doubts at first; however, each of my interviews has enlightened me with the support that Lewis is offering these struggling students. We must continue to support these students and let it be known to them that they will never walk alone on the difficult yet courageous path they have chosen to take on as true pioneers of the educational world.
Covarrubias, Rebecca, and Stephanie A. Fryberg. “Movin’ On Up (to College): First-Generation
College Students’ Experiences with Family Achievement Guilt.” Cultural Diversity and
Ethnic Minority Psychology, vol. 21, no. 3, 2015, pp. 420–429. https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/2014-37299-001
Engle, Jennifer and Tinto, Vincent. “Moving Beyond Access: College Success for Low-Income,
First-Generation students.” Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED504448
“Home.” First Generation Foundation, http://www.firstgenerationfoundation.org/.