First Generation College Student Opportunities & Challenges

According to a 2010 study by the Department of Education, it is estimated that nearly 50 percent of the college-going population consists of students whose parents did not graduate from college.  However, according to the Pell Institute Report, Moving Beyond Access (2007) National Center for Education Statistics revealed after six years, only 11 percent of low-income, first-generation students had earned bachelor’s degrees compared to 55 percent of their more advantaged peers. Past research indicates that students whose parents have not completed education beyond that of high school are significantly less likely to graduate from college than their peers with parents holding at least a bachelor’s degree. Nationally, 89 percent of low-income first-generation students leave college within six years without a degree. More than a quarter leave after their first year — four times the dropout rate of higher-income second-generation students. Only 6 percent of lowest income bracket have a bachelor’s degree, albeit, nearly 40% of highest income individuals do (Fitzgerald and Delaney, 2002).

Obtaining a rigorous college education benefits first generation college students throughout their lifetimes. Resilient first generation students who graduate with degrees, report positive outcomes throughout their college-going years, and upon graduation, throughout their careers, according to Gallup-Poll research. This is particularly true for students who have accessed career services offices, secured internships or co-ops, and or engaged in shadowing opportunities, or real-world projects while in school.However, first generation students face a wide array of setbacks when considering collegiate options, applying to universities and colleges, academically progressing toward degree completion, and even, graduating from institutions of higher learning.   Unfortunately the majority of American college students, irrespective of first-or non-first generation status, are burdened with college loans, often from private lenders, with less favorable terms than direct, subsidized Stafford loans.  Although first-generation students may qualify for Federal Pell Grants, additional loans are often required to complete intended post-secondary credentials.In the self-fulfilling prophecy fashion, fear of long-term tuition debt can engender a sense of hopeless in first generation college students. Hopelessness leads directly to decisions that trigger failure.  Some students withdraw from their classes, but many more disappear and drop out of college altogether.

The First Generation Foundation believes that the college journey is a worthy one.  The benefits of a college degree extend beyond the pecuniary interests of lone students and graduates.  Higher education contributes to the betterment of our families, our communities, and our world.  An authentic college education expands minds, encourages inquiry, engenders intellectual curiosity, unlocks human potential, and reminds us of our common humanity.  It accommodates us, and supports us when our aspirations stumble, leading not to accomplishment, but to failure.  In times of set-backs, our college education serves as a knowledge reservoir, a gift of learning to be tapped. It reminds us to draw upon our character and our spirit of resilience as we endure challenges, large and complex, and small and irksome. A rigorous college education instills principles and answers questions. How to reframe problems and redesign limitations, converting challenges into  opportunities for strengthening our own nature and forging our own human character.  College liberates the mind, elevates the truth, and celebrates the cacophony of voices that lead to conviction, unity, and the betterment of the human experience.  A college degree signals that individuals and society are heading the right way, toward the open gates of hope, which allows initiative and drive to fuel progress. Education affirms hope, and without hope, humankind will have lost its own soul.

Our Convictions & Actions

Although today’s world is marked by disruptive, and accelerating technological and societal change, the First Generation Foundation remains a stable anchor, forged by consistency of its character, its central purpose, and its dual aims, of advocating for first generation college students, and advising academically rigorous colleges and universities of best practices which support and sustain first generation students’ for success in college, career, and life.

To afford an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”  Abraham Lincoln, 1861

To open the gates of opportunity and create a society in which everyone has a chance to advance his welfare to the limit of his capacities.” Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965

“She did what she could do.”  Mary Ott, Baldwin Wallace College, Year Unknown  

The First Generation Foundation is an exempt charitable organization classified as a public charity. The First Generation Foundation is not a a private foundation. The use of the word “foundation” is not a legal term, nor should it be construed to indicate the organization exists solely to make grants to like-minded causes. The First Generation Foundation follows the naming convention that scores of nonprofit organizations have adopted. Through use of the term “foundation” non-profits, as public charities, are better able to position their missions and, to protect their brand identities.  The Foundation is organized to receive income from the conduct of activities in furtherance of the organization’s exempt purposes. As a 501 (3) (c) the organization is structured  to receive contributions from many sources, including the general public, governmental agencies, corporations, private foundations or other public charities; additionally, it may engage in fundraisers to support its mission. The Foundation listens, learns, and strives to help its core constituencies: first generation college students and the rigorous postsecondary educational enterprises serving and educating them. The Foundation does what it can do to identify, mitigate and remove structural barriers to first generation collegiate success in the academically rigorous postsecondary educational sector.

  • Deliver keynote addresses and presentations to collegiate board of trustees, presidents’ cabinets, faculty governance, classrooms, and clubs.
  • Assess and evaluate the efficacy of first-generation student services and communications across campuses.
  • Design campus research studies to clarify problems and opportunities to advance the first generation student agenda.
  • Offer metrics, rubrics, and resources which advance prioritization, optimal decision making, and student learning outcomes.
  • Foster first generation student advocacy across campuses.
  • Facilitate collaborative problem solving geared toward actionable solutions to campus challenges facing first generation students.
  • Orchestrate cross-campus conversations, forums, and focus groups of students, faculty, staff, advisory and community members.
  • Consult across academic, student, community and social-capital endeavors to design and enrich the first generation college student experience.
  • Serve first-generation students by providing access to free digital information, varied resources, scholarships and monetary support.
  • Orchestrate fund-raising student to support first generation students; raise awareness, build bridges and remove barriers to college.