First-generation students struggle to graduate

By Yajaira Santillan
Pulse Staff Reporter

ysantillanGraduating high school is an accomplishment, but graduating from college is an even bigger accomplishment for first-generation college students.

First-generation college students are students whose parents have not attended college or earned a four-year degree.

Research shows that these students encounter more struggles financially, academically and professionally than students whose parents attended college. First-generation college students have the stigma of an 89 percent failure rate for graduating from college within six years, and the number keeps growing.

For these students, struggles and triumphs are what it’s all about. They enter college having little or no knowledge of the expectations demanded or resources required. They have no one to fall back on.

“I find it a little difficult because all of a sudden you become dependent on yourself,” said Roger Gutierrez, a freshman Math major. “But there are people at the college that help a lot, so I could fall back on them.”

It is important for first-generation college students to feel like they are a part of a college life.

Students whose parents have attended college benefit from their parents’ experiences. They understand what it is to have a relationship with faculty and many other aspects of college that first-generation college students lack. Some parents even oppose the idea of their kids going to college.

“No they haven’t always supported me, but I knew that I had to make a better life for myself,” said Lee Martinez, a sophomore Math major.

Many first generation college students often decide to go to college to bring honor to their families. Studies have shown that 69 percent of students attend college to help their families financially.

“I feel if I don’t make it, then I failed my parents, and the pressure of letting them down is tough,” said Gutierrez.

Finishing college is important to all students, but specifically for first-generation college students because they are the first in the family to reach this milestone. They’ve accomplished something that many people don’t.

“I want to have a good life and have a decent job with a college degree,” said Catherine Tanaka, a freshman Communications major.

Colleges and universities have the opportunity to redesign their teaching practices and academic support services to accommodate these students. They can recruit mentors and they can have a specific website for both parents and students to access. Success stories, scholarship information and on-campus links to help them could be included.

Palo Alto College has resources that are able to point first-generation college students toward success. Palo Alto has advisors who help students map out their degree and help with step-by-step information on scholarships, transfer applications and anything students need support.

“The best resource for a first-generation college student is their academic advisor,” said Maria Rogers, senior coordinator of Student Support Services. “Their academic advisor is someone who will understand what they are going through and will know what auxiliary resources they need or should take advantage of, such as clubs, tutoring, and other programs.”

Parents play a big role in a student’s life. They have the power to influence their kids. It is understandable for a first-generation college student’s parent to find it difficult to encourage their kids to continue with college since they haven’t had that experience themselves.

One of President Obama’s goals is for America to have the highest number of citizens in the world with a post-secondary degree. This sounds impossible, especially with a big percentage of college students being the first-generation, but with the actions that many colleges and universities are taking, this dream is a possibility.

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