Dropout Risk Higher for First-Generation College Students

Among the 30,000 college students arriving on area campuses, many are unfamiliar with the college environment – and so are their parents, writes Michelle Steinbacher at Pantagraph.com.

First generation students are one of the most at-risk populations for dropping out, said Anthony Cardenas, Lincoln College vice president of enrollment management and student services.

About a quarter of Illinois State University’s 20,000 students come from families where neither parent earned a four-year degree, said Jonathan Rosenthal, associate vice president of ISU’s enrollment management.

“Sometimes first-generation students arrive and don’t truly understand what the whole college experience is about,” said Cardennas, who was a first generation student himself.

Schools are generally tending to approach first-year students as a group for special attention – as well as keeping in mind background needs – Leaders at Lincoln and other area campuses say.

These students, who have little or no family history in college, can enter a college or university with scarce knowledge of the “jargon, traditions, and patterns of expected behavior,” advises the counseling center for Illinois University.

These factors could prevent first-generation students from fully engaging and could potentially lead to early departures from the university. No matter how intelligent and capable, first-generation students may benefit from additional support as they adjust to a new environment, writes Steinbacher.

“First-generation students tend to come from working class families from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds”, states the Counseling Center, set up to support students which require special attention.

“First-generation students may start at a community college, attend college part-time, live off-campus or with family or relatives, delay entering college after high-school graduation, or work full-time while they are enrolled. Students may also feel added responsibility from families to be ‘the one who succeeds’ in college. This may increase the pressure the individual already experiences as a new student.”

Illinois State University approaches first-generation support from several angles, said Amelia Noel-Elkins, University College director. But in general, the university gives a variety of support to first-year students, she said.

In its University College there is a centralized academic support area, as well as a focus on student orientation and advising, she said.

To help develop a community with its first-year students, Illinois Wesleyan University run a summer reading program and week-long “Turning Titan” orientation.

Lincoln Christian University enrolls about 1,200 students, 400 of whom are traditional bachelor-degree seeking students that live on campus, said Brian Mills, vice president of student development.

“Some of the most successful students I’ve had have been first-generation students. Often they arrive with better time-management skills having had to work already, and often working their way through college,” he said.

His campus also looks at first-year students as a whole, including a first semester course for tackling emotional transition to college, time management, and how to best work with academic advisement, writes Steinbacher.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.