Help is here for first-generation college students
Going to college will have its challenges, no matter who you are or where you came from. But many are attempting to be the first in their families to earn a postsecondary credential, which can come with its own set of hurdles to clear.
Definitions of a first-generation college student vary, but it’s commonly understood as students whose parents did not complete a four-year degree.
It's difficult to give an exact number for how many first-generation college students start classes each year in the U.S., as this can vary from year to year and by institution. However, according to a report by the American Council on Education, approximately one-third of all undergraduate students in the U.S. are first-generation college students, so it's safe to say that a significant number of first-generation college students start classes each year.
If you’re considering college, and you’d be the first in your family to do so, you’re on the right track for bettering your life.
Studies have consistently shown that earning a college degree results in better lifetime earnings on average compared to those without a college degree. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals with a bachelor's degree earn, on average, about 80% more per week than those with only a high school diploma. Additionally, individuals with a college degree are more likely to have access to higher-paying jobs and have greater job security. They are also more likely to receive benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans.
But first-generation students face unique obstacles in going to college. A considerable body of research indicates that students whose parents have not attended college often face significant challenges in enrolling in postsecondary institutions, succeeding academically once they enroll, and completing a degree, according to a 2018 study from the U.S. Department of Education. The report found first-generation students enrolled in college at lower rates than peers whose parents had college experience and first-generation students are less likely to obtain a degree or certification.
So if you want to see yourself in better control of your future, but you’re worried about the challenges you might face, don’t worry! People are here to help you.
Many community colleges have programs specifically designed to support first-generation college students, offering academic support, mentorship, networking opportunities and other resources to help first-generation college students succeed. In addition to counseling and advising services offered to all students, some colleges have staff who specialize in working with first-generation students. Community colleges across the U.S. offer financial aid and scholarship resources aimed at helping first-generation students. Workshops and seminars, as well as peer support groups are also offered at certain community colleges.
At Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, 29% of students are considered first generation. In 2022, the college rolled out the Davis First Generation Experience (DFGE), designed to help incoming first-generation college students feel comfortable on LCCC’s campus and ready for the challenges of going to college. Each year, the plan is to take on a new cohort of students who will go through programming designed to help the first-generation students navigate college life.
Dr. Danielle Ryan, LCCC Human and Public Services Pathway coordinator and the DFGE’s co-lead, says it's her hope that the program will help the first-generation students she’s working with stay in college until completion.
“My angle is doing whatever we can do to help them stay in college, feel comfortable and build their confidence,” Dr. Ryan said, who is a first-generation scholar herself.
Going to college wasn’t always a part of Jack Lance’s life plan. But during his sophomore year of high school in Green River, Wyoming, the 18-year-old was inspired to pursue a career as a sound engineer. Lance was unsure about going to college, but as part of the inaugural class of the Davis First Generation Experience at LCCC, he said he’s found a path to success.
As his second semester at LCCC neared its end, Lance said he felt like he had a support system on campus that makes anything possible.
“The DFGE allowed me to more closely connect with a group of people I would have otherwise never met,” Lance said. “I now have meaningful friendships that will last me a lifetime thanks to the experience.”
Dr. Ryan is looking forward to a new cohort in Fall 2023 of at least 22 new Davis scholars. After two semesters, nearly all of the students in the cohort who began the inaugural semester are still LCCC students.
If you can see yourself as a first-generation college student at LCCC, go to lccc.wy.edu/firstGen.