Educating First-Generation Americans

Delia Pompa photo
Delia Pompa, Senior Vice President, Programs, NCLR

National Journal’s Education Insiders blog features our very own Senior Vice President for Programs, Delia Pompa.

Each week, National Journal’s Fawn Johnson poses a question about the latest education news to the blog’s insiders. This week, Johnson asked about how we can adequately educate first-generation Americans, or “first-gens.”

Below is Johnson’s question, followed by Pompa’s response.

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What is the difference between first-gens and other college students? Is the Hollywood version of a backpack toting 18-year-old campus freshman be an anachronism? What can elite colleges do to recruit nontraditional students, and how successful can they be at it? What can state and local governments do to support community colleges that educate the bulk of the first-gens? Is there a way to change the equation and make sure more of these first-gens are at elite schools, and maybe even more “traditional” students are at community colleges?

Delia Pompa:
Meeting the needs of first-generation Latino students in our colleges and universities must be a national priority. Among all racial and ethnic groups, Latinos represent the highest proportion of first-generation college students, yet they are less likely to earn degrees. Latinos in 2008–2009 accounted for only 12.4 percent of all associate’s degrees, 8 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, 6 percent of all master’s degrees, and 3.8 percent of all doctoral degrees. To correct these persistently poor outcomes, significantly greater dollars must be invested in programmatic interventions that positively impact the perseverance and retention of Latino students.

We know that first-generation Latino students are often less prepared for the academic, social, and financial requirements of college. Efforts that intentionally impact the academic and social development of students for a smooth college transition are key. The recipe for increasing the proportion of first-generation students who complete college includes: opportunities for accessing targeted tutoring services and advisement, participating in peer-led study networks, and engaging in sustained mentoring relationships to navigate a new culture and environment. Equally important is the need for campus environments to recognize the presence of a less traditional student body and take steps to meet that population’s distinctive academic and social needs. These efforts are most successful when they include the use of data to drive curricular improvements, enhance student supports, and increase cultural competence in relationships between students and their faculty and advisers. Finally, sufficient financial aid for first-generation Latino students is essential to ensuring that students aren’t forced to choose between focusing on their studies and focusing on employment to make ends meet.

Our nation’s future economy and social fabric depend on college completion for all first-generation students.

Go to National Journal’s site to read the rest of the responses from other education experts.

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