Succeeding in places for which your past hasn’t prepared you

Stefanie Botelho's picture
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First-generation college students—undergraduates whose parents did not attend university—have reason to be proud. They’ve made it, against daunting odds. But once they get on campus, many of these individuals struggle.

First-generation students “are more likely to encounter academic, financial, professional, cultural and emotional difficulties than are students whose parents attended college,” writes Teresa Heinz Housel, an associate professor of communication at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, who studies this population (and was herself the first in her family to attend college). More than a quarter of low-income first-generation college students leave after their first year, and 89 percent fail to graduate within six years.

The number of these students is growing—nearly one in three entering freshmen in the U.S. is a first-generation student—and so is interest in helping them succeed.

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