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- 1 2015-10-28T02:31:50-07:00 Lori Dougherty 823735008633905823d41ebf8b3ff00c976bbaa1 Unprepared for Higher Education Lori Dougherty 2 plain 2015-10-28T02:33:13-07:00 Lori Dougherty 823735008633905823d41ebf8b3ff00c976bbaa1
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Now that we have looked into some of the individual factors that FGCS may encounter on their journey to higher education, let’s take a look at structural factors that can cause FGCS to have a difficult time getting into and staying in college.
Structural factors are defined as environmental and material resources that can guide a student’s behavior” (Stephens, Brannon, Markus, & Nelson 2015).
As discussed in individual factors, having strong social and cultural capital connects students to a network of individuals that provide insight into the college experience. The insight given to non-FGCS from college-educated families provides them with access to information and an understanding of the college system (Pascarella, Pierson, Wolniak, and Terenzini (2004). Their parents or immediate family can provide cultural capital, which familiarizes the student with the system and creates a space of comfort success (Bourdieu, 1986). The confidence non-first generation college students inherit through familial and community knowledge allows students to manage unfamiliar territory because they are aware of the expectations associated with the college experience. The level of knowledge and encouragement allows for non-FGCS to experience the college process and overall experience differently in comparison to their first generation counterparts (Terenzini, Springer, Yaeger, Pascarella, & Nora, 1996). Access to human, cultural, economic, and social capital is limited for students who are FGCS or from low-income communities. This limited capital can impact their ability to navigate their post secondary educational experience. As addressed by Bradbury and Mather (2009), issues pertaining to access to knowledge of higher education, belongingness, and academic adjustment as well as disconnect from family deter students from persevering in college.
Knowledge of Higher Education
Although there are many factors that contribute to one's ability to access and progress through institutions of higher education, at the most basic level students who identify as FGCS have limited understanding of college types, how financial aid works, how to distinguish best fit, and numerous other factors that play into deciding which college is right for them. Limited resources often prevent FGCS from visiting college or university campuses or applying to a wide range of colleges at different levels of selectivity, which would increase both their likelihood of applying to college and gaining admission (Stephens, Brannon, Markus, & Nelson, 2015).
Community colleges play a very important role in getting many first-generation college students started in a college career. The U.S. Department of Education (2012) reported that 40% of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions were enrolled in community colleges. This is mainly due to the fact that FGCS work part-or full-time while attending school. FGCS find that community colleges, which are close to home and work, offer the options they need to attend college. However, Karp, Hughes, and O’Gara (2011) found that even though part-time enrollment is a necessity for many students, it is also correlated with not completing a degree due to the low level of immersion and engagement part-time students receive. Choy (2000) found that independent students, while being more likely to work full-time and have dependents, also identified more strongly with their identity as a student than their part-time peers. For these students especially, their identity as a student could be appealing in order to help them feel more engaged with the school, faculty, and staff, and avail themselves more of the support services and aid available to help them persist through graduation.
For FGCS, access to capital through familial or community knowledge is limited and, therefore, does not accurately prepare students for their transition into college on top of their traditional responsibilities. As a result, FGCS typically attend less competitive, lower-ranked colleges and universities, such as community colleges, in order to cope with their various responsibilities (Stephens et al, 2015).
Staying connected to Family
Being the first in your family to attend college can be both exciting and challenging for students. Due to limited access to college knowledge, many FGCS decide to attend state institutions, which may be the best financial options for them. Attending a state school may also allow them to live at home in order to save money. The balance between navigating their college experience and still maintaining their familial connections can be very difficult. FGCS often feel a strain of commitments to their cultural and household obligations while also balancing academics, and often, employment (American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, 2001). For many FGCS, access to education and knowledge as well as personal experience gained through formal and informal relationships can place students in two worlds. The first world is familiar to them: one that reminds and centers them with their family and community, and the other that inspires them to challenge their understanding of the world as we know it. FGCS return home eager to share this knowledge with family and friends, but may find that this excitement is not reciprocated. Students may be perceived as being arrogant, disrespectful, or an outsider by their family and friends. These students straddle the fence of exploring knowledge and maintaining their connection to their family and community. First-generation students live in a parallel universe on campus. They do not have the ability to call their families for help on homework, insight into issues they are facing, or deciding upon a major. They face pressure to be successful and create opportunities for future finical stability for themselves and their family. The pressure faced by this population goes beyond our typical understanding of college student experience. It is layered with additional factors that hinder success.
Sense of Belonging
FGCS often face family, cultural, social, and academic transitions that can create an environment where they feel that they are living in two cultures, in which they do not feel a sense of belonging to either worlds. The desire to feel connected to their college campus can be attached to a student’s ability to recognize that their community values them and that they are needed in that space. The expectation to assimilate to this new environment, which embodies traditional ideals that align with the dominant white culture, can create tension and alienation for students who doubt their ability to succeed (Rendón, 1994). This internal conflict felt by FGCS can greatly impact their college experiences.