First generation college students make up 40 percent of freshman class

By: Andrew Preston

When Abby-Lynn Jordan got her acceptance letter to Trevecca her parents pinned it to the family refrigerator with a poster that said, “She finally did it!”

Jordan, an early childhood education major, is one of around 160 freshmen at Trevecca this fall who are the first people in their families to potentially graduate from college.

Though her parents didn’t go to college, there was never a question about whether she would.

“It wasn’t my choice,” Jordan said. “My parents said, ‘Since we didn’t go, we want you to go. We want you to have the opportunity that we didn’t have.’”

She considered not attending college to accept a full-time position at a pre-school as a teacher’s assistant, but her parents bargained with her.

“Give us at least two years,” Jordan said. “If you have two years down, you have your basics and you’re good to go.”

Jordan is what college administrators call first generation college students. How universities define first generation can differ. At Trevecca, students are identified as first generation if neither parent graduated from college.

According to firstgenerationfoundation.org, an estimated 30 percent of all freshman entering college are first generation students.

This fall, around 40 percent of Trevecca’s largest freshmen class is considered first generation.

“We’re providing opportunities for students who never thought they would be going to college,” said Brodrick Thomas, coordinator of student engagement and diversity. “We’re giving them the opportunity to change their whole family dynamic by finishing school.”

Being a first-generation college student is one of the most often cited predictors of not finishing a college degree, according to the First Generation Foundation, a foundation that helps connect first generation students to services they need.

“Past research has indicated that students whose parents have no education beyond high school are significantly less likely to graduate than peers whose parents have at least a bachelor’s degree,” states an article on www. firstgenerationfoundation.com. “Nationally, 89 percent of low-income first generation students leave college within six years without a degree.”

At Trevecca, a team of administrators are working to overcome those statistics. Jeff Swink, coordinator of assessment and retention, gathers data from all freshmen.

“At the beginning of the semester we give all freshmen a CSI (College Student Inventory) survey,” Swink said. “One of the questions on there asks the student what is the educational background of their parents. From their responses we derive how many first generational students are at Trevecca.”

From that information, Swink and his team create programming and support systems based on what students need to be successful in college. During orientation freshmen and their families are given the opportunity to go through a first generational student workshop.

Two student workers, Sofia Guerrero and Nicolas Reinhard, have been hired by Thomas to build a relationship with minority students and first-generation students.

“Their job is to connect with the diverse students, including our first generational students, to help them with any questions they have about college,” Thomas said. “We walk them to every office in the CLCS and introduce them to the faculty.”

Jordan applied to Trevecca just two weeks before the August deadline.

“I’m excited to be at Trevecca, but it’s been eye-opening,” Jordan said. “My high school did not prepare me for college at all.”

For Jordan, knowing she will be the first to graduate from college in her family leaves her with a sense of relief and pride.

“I really think it’s an honor,” Jordan said. “I want my kids to look at my degree and know I accomplished something.”

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