First-Generation Students and their Struggle to Succeed

January 01, 2013

Diversity Journal

Professor Banks-SantilliProfessor Villegas-ReimersIf achieving the American Dream includes graduating from college, the experience for first-generation college students is becoming more like a nightmare. We live in an economy today that is forcing people to question the value of a college degree due to its cost. Over the last 25 years, tuition and fees have risen 587% for private colleges and universities and 683% for public ones. In addition, the cost of room and board has increased more than 60% in private and public colleges in the last 20 years. One half of first-generation college students in America are considered low income and 72% work while attending college. These data have enormous implications for degree attainment, retention and attrition.

Many first-generation students compare their entry into college with visiting a foreign country without a map or the language needed to be successful. Their experiences often mirror those of American immigrants. Inspired by my own background as a first-generation college student, I am conducting a study on first-generation students at Wheelock College where I teach. I sought the expertise of my colleague, Dr. Eleonora Villegas-Reimers who herself is an immigrant. As co-researchers, our uniquely different backgrounds strengthen our interpretation of interviews and complement our data analyses. We have provided them here to further illustrate our connection with our first-generation students.

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