First-Generation College Students Not Succeeding, and Money Isn’t the Problem

Social and cultural factors are working against many students who are the first in their family to pursue higher education

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Christopher Feaster lived in a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., for most of high school. Laundry was a once-a-month luxury. “I would have to re-wear socks,” he says. “They were white socks, but they were so dirty that they were brown and sometimes they were starting to go black. I had to re-wear underwear because I didn’t have clean underwear.”

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Homeless students face terrible odds of graduating from high school, but Christopher excelled at school. A young man with an easy smile and bubbly personality, he maintained close relationships with his teachers and took part in a long list of extracurricular activities. He was the poster child for grit and determination. And it finally paid off. During his senior year, Christopher won $200,000 in college scholarships. His mother, teachers, and classmates cheered, and in the fall, he headed off to Michigan State University, planning on a career in hospitality.

A year later, he dropped out.

Everyone loves the story of a disadvantaged kid getting a full ride to college, maybe because people see money as the greatest barrier to higher education. But often that’s not true. Even when students manage to cobble together scholarships, loans or gifts from relatives or churches, once they actually get into college, they typically find they have a whole new set of unanticipated barriers: academic, social and cultural, as well as their own internal self-doubt.

These challenges are magnified when a student is the first in their family to go to college.

Nearly one-third of  students entering two- or four-year colleges in the United States each year are first-generation. These students are also more likely to be minorities, and they are far less likely to graduate. In six years, 40% of first-generation students will have earned a bachelor’s or associate degree or certificate, vs. 55% of their peers whose parents attended college.

Read more at the Washington Post.