What obstacles do minority first generation high school students face during their journey to higher education and how do they overcome them?
“I’m brown, not the plain card board type of brown. I’m the coffee flavored, chocolate ice cream and brownies brown. I’m cinnamon brown, Mexican brown. And not only am I just brown, I’m brown and graduated.” Nancy Mejias, a graduate from Colorado State University asserted while her face lit up in response to the movement of her shoulders to an imaginary music beat.
It’s more than a high school diploma. It’s a key, a stepping stone, an unraveling uncompleted promise for something much bigger. Walking across the stage for graduation is the end of a journey for some, but for many first generation students it is a symbolic milestone to the imminent highway ahead. With the pride and glory that is enveloped in a high school diploma, many do not recognize the inestimable, unforeseen struggles that lie ahead.
The mosaic melting pot of traditions, cultures and values that come together and make the U.S. whole, all have different diverse backgrounds. Their struggles and successes paint the colors of the American flag. One thing that should be highlighted is that not everyone has the same starting place and not everyone was given the same opportunities to become successful. Eab.com stated that rougly about 90% of first generation college students are low-income. This makes the playing field unequal, causing some to get a head start and others to fall behind. Many are privileged with the fact that their parents had gone to the process of college as a whole. And others, are stepping in the dark with what seems like no guidance in a whirlpool of deadlines, standards and essays. This is seen as a major set back to first generation students who are just starting to dip their toes into a whole new world of education.
Many students have sought out different opportunities to help them achieve the goal of attending a college or university. They’re willingness to try a little bit harder on figuring things out than the rest has lead many to discover many programs such as the I Have a Dream, the True Achievement Program, and the Asset Program among others that cater to their needs and help fill the gaps where the students’ parents aren’t able to fill. According to insidehighered.com first-generation students also showed more interest in completing a certificate programs compared to non-first-generation students. The ratio was 33.6 percent to 27.7 percent. There are programs out there with the intent of helping first generation students, student only need to have the drive and commitment to get there.
There have been many stories of individuals who overcame endless obstacles and made it big despite the fact that it seemed all odds were against them. One individual in particular is Nely Galan. Apart from being a fan of her work myself, she has won her supporters with her sweat and tears. She is a strong writer, entrepreneurial bad ass Latina (among other things) who owns her own television network. She fought restlessly against the Latina stereotype and on top of that, she was a first generation student. She did this by learning to embody the role models that she looked up to, ingest their leadership abilities and “fake it until she made it”. She is living proof that there is a world full of opportunity if you are willing to sweat a little. And if you are willing to go above and beyond as she said,“Chispas.” (boom) You can be amazed at what heights you will reach regardless of whether or not you are first generation or have any types of obstacles ahead.
The amount of first generations students has been rapidly increasing every year. That reflects the fact that they are helping each other out and assisting each other to climb new heights. Thus, defying that crab in the bucket analogy of pulling each other down or not knowing how to help each other. As a result to this other programs have strengthened their help for students and have set out to understand their situation in order to really help. This heavily benefits students when they find themselves in the dark. Nancy Mejias is a living example of how first generation students give back to their community once they graduate from college. She currently works for a non-profit organization which focuses on retention to and through college within low income families and students who are also first generation, like herself. Her personal experiences allow her to connect and support the students in ways that other people could not.
Another example of how successful first generation students have returned and given back to their community is Michelle Obama. Apart from initiating many programs to push and support first generation students all the way to getting their diploma on stage, on February 5th, 2014 she has personally made an “I’m First” video. “At first I even worried that maybe I wasn’t as smart as some of my classmates.” She explained when she spoke about how she felt importers syndrome. She also brushed up on how she didn’t know what to expect from the little things like sheets, to not feeling like she belonged in a class. She is a role model for thousands of First Generation students and has given hope to them by advocating and implementing powerful programs. Seeing where she is today and knowing that her starting point is similar to many first generation students, first generation students look up to her and want to follow in her footsteps.
Getting more students to go to college and pursue a career in areas which they love will also benefit our economy. According to lonestar.edu the future economic growth ofour city and state depends on having a well-educated and highly-skilled workforce. The higher the percentage of college graduates there are in our economy, the more higher paying jobs they will occupy. And in turn, drastically helping our economy and bettering our society as a whole. Lonestar.edu stated that about 40% of community college students are first generation, proving they are taking the first steps toward higher education despite A world full of educated and open minds will largely help advance new discoveries and advance our technolog and economy.
Although first generation students face many struggles, the outcome of reaching higher education is worth it. Overcoming barriers and achieving what they set out to do benefits our society and the lives of first generation students. No matter what odds are against these students, their willingness to overcome adversity and make their lives and communities better is a beneficial thing for those around them as well.