According to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly one-third of all incoming first-year students each year are first-generation college students. The Postsecondary National Policy Institute developed a handout in November of 2020 regarding first-generation students that presented information regarding enrollment/degree attainment, demographics, and challenges. While first-generation college students are academically skilled, they do not have the support through the experiences of their parents in navigating the policies, terms, and procedures that are present on the college campus.
Navigating New Territory
VWU First is an initiative for first-generation students and their parents with the goal of answering questions and providing resources that will assist with navigating this new experience. The program will help students and families understand the resources available at VWU such as the Learning Center, Counseling Services, and Financial Aid process to name a few.
VWU has created these pages for all students but they are geared toward first-generation students and their families. We offer frequently asked questions for both students and parents, resources, a glossary of terms, and information about the FAFSA.
While all students face pressure when they enter college, first-generation students have additional challenges as they navigate unknown territory. Common experiences for first-generation students include:
- Concerns regarding the financial commitment that attending college requires students and families to make, especially given the lack of prior experience with higher education costs.
- The challenge of navigating the college campus and its resources without specific knowledge from their parents, which includes how to approach/interact with faculty, out of class resources available to students, and how to engage in professional networking.
- The development of a disconnection between themselves and family members because of the student's exposure to new populations, new technologies, new concepts, and possibly, new value systems.
- Pressure to excel in college so that they can serve as the person in the family to help provide financial and social mobility to their family.
(Adapted from Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
ScholarMatch is an organization that provides resources and information about scholarships for first-generation students. In addition to ScholarMatch, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) has an initiative with the Suder Foundation called the Center for First-Generation Student Success. The organizations have created materials to aid first-generation students to be successful.
In 2019, Michelle Obama helped create a video series entitled "A Student's Guide To Their First Year in College." This series addresses many of the concerns above, educating students on paying for college, living on one's own, finding a mentor, living on a budget, and more.