Programs Help First-Generation College Students

April 7, 2010

graduateColleges and universities are stepping up efforts to retain first-generation students.

USA Today reports that about 30 percent of entering freshman in the United States are first-generation college students, and 24 percent are low-income students as well. According to national statistics, their chances of completing a degree are slim: Close to 90 percent of low-income first-generation students leave college within six years without graduating.

To give these students a better chance at completing higher education, institutions have created programs designed to offer more support and structure. At the University of Cincinnati, for example, an off-campus residence called Gen-1 House is designated exclusively for low-income, first-generation students. Residents must maintain a 2.25 GPA and agree to various rules including a regular curfew, no alcohol, drugs, going home the first five weeks or working at a job more than 20 hours a week.

"We have a very structured environment," noted Josh Giles, a Gen-1 House freshman resident who was quoted by USA Today. "I think a lot of outside distractions hurt many students."

Similarly, the Merced Sun-Star reports that the University of California Merced instituted the Fiat Lux Scholars program this year, which helps first-generation students cope with university life. Retaining such students is a priority at UC Merced, where 1,670 of the 3,190 undergraduates in the fall 2009 class are first-generation college students.

Those in the program can receive a 30 percent discount for renting textbooks at the campus bookstore. They also participate in study skills workshops, enroll in a freshman success course, and receive additional support from Jessie Bernal, who coordinates the program.

Bernal told the Sun-Star that he encourages first-generation students to become more involved at school. That's because generally, he said, "students in these situations don't get involved in campus activities."

Other institutions are assisting first-generation students with the financial hurdle of higher education. The Florida Times-Union reports that the University of North Florida recently received a one million dollar boost for its first-generation scholarship fund. Two organizations, The Players Championship and EverBank, have pledged $250,000 each, and the funds will be matched by the state's Florida First Generation Matching Grant Program. According to Pierre Alliare, UNF's vice president for institutional advancement, the school's scholarship fund grants an average of $2,500 to about 300 first-generation students every year.

"I'm the first in my family to go to college, so that adds another level of complication," noted Marvin Metheny III, a blind former soldier pursuing a psychology degree at UNF who was quoted by the Times-Union. "But my first-generation scholarship lets me focus on doing my best in class--not on how I'll pay for school."

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff

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