Ortiz: First generation students should have extra support

Kenia Ortiz

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

The transition to college is not simple. There’s a sense of newfound freedom and learning how to handle independence in and out of school with no one to hold you responsible for your actions but yourself. 

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Being a first generation student comes with all of those challenges and more. They deserve better support.

It has been well-advertised that many first generation students, or FGS, struggle when it comes to financing school. However, there are more challenges FGS face that go unheard of.

According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, 48% of first generation students attend college part-time. This compares to the 38% of students whose parents have at least a bachelor’s degree, that attend school part-time. This could be due to the many FGS who work not only to help pay for school, but have responsibilities at home that don’t allow for school to be their only priority.

Students of color are also more likely to be FGS. According to the PNPI, forty-two percent of Black students and 48% of Hispanic students are first-generation students, compared to 28% of White students.

For nearly 20% of FGS, English isn’t their first language, according to the PNPI. This presents another challenge when learning about what is needed to succeed in college, and educating their parent(s)/guardian(s) along the way.

It’s not enough to only offer FGS help when it comes to financial aid. There’s a huge emotional toll that plays a part in their experience.

FGS begin feeling the pressure of navigating college even before attending — the majority of FGS have felt the pressure of college since they were kids. 

I am a first generation college student, and I have been thinking about college since I was in middle school. My parents provided the best they could for me, but they always said “Do not settle for this. Go to college so you can get a well-paid job and you won’t have to struggle like we did.”

I cannot speak for every FGS, but finishing college is not just an accomplishment for me, but for my whole family. It’s something we’ll all be proud of, which adds more significance and pressure.

When FGS attend college, they cannot benefit from their parents’ college experience. Their parents cannot serve as a resource they can turn to when navigating college. 

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It’s not enough to only offer help to FGS when it comes to financial aid. There’s a huge emotional toll that plays a part in their experience.

Racial underrepresentation and difficulty adjusting to college can also manifest into feeling like an outsider. Not only does that student feel like they’re behind everyone else and in a constant mode of catch-up, but they don’t have a community to turn to for support that shares their values and experiences.

This isolation can build to low-academic self esteem, which then contributes to a lower rate of college completion compared to students who have at least one parent with a four-year degree.

Counseling and self-care should be promoted to FGS as much as the Office of Financial Aid is. After finances are sorted out, students expect everything else to be a smooth ride, not knowing they have yet to experience culture shock, discrimination, low-academic self-esteem and stress. FGS have the right to know that, while not all first-generation students will experience this, it’s something that can come up. When it does, they need resources to turn to.

FGS withstand the discomfort of feeling like an outsider and the stress of navigating what college is because the diploma at the end is a part of something bigger than themselves. They are laying down the foundation to a path that wasn’t there for them in order to help and mentor those who come after.

Kenia Ortiz can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @Kenia_Ortiz_