Editor's Note (The View From Here)
First in the Family
- By Shannon O'Connor
- October 1st, 2017
When I entered college, I was a first-generation college student. My father graduated from high school and went to work for his father, who owned a printing business. He took over and ran that print shop until he sold it and retired in his mid-70s. My mother didn’t finish high school. Even so, she worked as a reporter for a small-town newspaper, collecting updates from around the community, typing them up and sending those newsy tidbits — when a church was having a bake sale, what a bride wore on her wedding day, what the school board voted on at their recent meeting, who had relatives visiting from out of town — off to the newsroom for publication.
I learned to type on my mother’s manual typewriter. I learned about typesetting and proofreading and attention to detail and, to some degree, good customer service, from spending time with and helping my father in his print shop. Growing up in a very small town where the expectations for young women were fairly traditional, my outlier parents expected me to go college. They did not have much knowledge to share to facilitate that ambition so I was left on my own to figure it out.
Despite that lack of family experience and, in my college years, no overall focus within higher education on tailored support for first-generation students, I made it through. Today’s first-generation students, however, are entering institutions with programs and facilities in place to support them and contribute to their success. Themed communities integrated into residence halls include facilities for first-generation students, with advisors armed with the knowledge and tools necessary to guide these first-gen students through the maze of college life. The Center for First-Generation Student Success, a new initiative led by NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education), will serve as the primary entity to increase the research, scholarship and effective practice supporting first-gen student success and to expand the number of institutions with evidence-based programs. A new report from the Institute of Education Sciences compares background, educational characteristics, plans, enrollments and completion patterns of first-generation college students to those of their peers who have at least one parent that has earned at least a bachelor’s degree. The information in this report can be useful to colleges and universities looking for methods to keep their first-gen students on the road to their degrees.
The goal is student success. For all students; whether first-generation, or members of a long line of college graduates.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.