January 31, 2012

First-generation students get a lift from Trio

By Caitlyn Crenshaw–

As the unemployment gap between those with a college degree and those without widens, the movement of first-generation college students has grown in response to the need for a college education.

“The sky can be the limit if you just reach up and grab it,” said Synita Ellis, a U of L first-generation college student. Ellis is continually pursuing higher education, despite her obstacles.

“I watched my parents struggle and [if] they had gone to college and graduated, more doors would have been open to them,” said Ellis.

Nadine Petty is the director of Trio Student Support Services, a nationwide federally funded program with a branch at U of L located in the Counseling Center. Petty said of first-generation college students, “I think that the current economic state is driving people to pursue greater opportunities.”

The mission of the Trio office is to “increase retention and graduation rates by offering academic and personal support.”

Nearly 4.5 million college students are low-income, first-generation students and only 11 percent are expected to graduate with a bachelors degree within six years, according the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. Because of these statistics, universities have adopted the federal program, Trio, to offer support to ensure that first-generation students graduate.

Ellis said of her transition into the mindset of a student, “I felt out of place and felt I would do better if there was a system or program in place to tend to the specific needs of students like myself.” Trio Student Support Services is the center of support for first-generation students at U of L. Trio offers assistance like GRE preparation, in-house tutoring, career advising, financial assistance, personal counseling and more.

Ellis spoke very highly of Trio, saying, “This is an awesome program that is designed to help first-generation students. I would tell first-gen students to take advantage of any and all resources offered by the university that can make their journey through college life more manageable.”

The University of Cincinnati is drawing national attention for Gen-1, their housing program exclusive to first-generation college students.

“All 24 students who moved into Gen-1 house in September 2009, and 11 of the 14 in 2008 when it opened, are still in college,” according to the report done by the University of Cincinnati.

“Many first-generation students struggle with the culture of a new environment,” said Petty. “And sometimes have the challenges of family and friends who may not necessarily understand the pursuit of higher education and may not be as supportive as the student may need them to be.”

One disadvantage to first-generation students is that they “have not had the opportunity to learn from example,” said Petty. Although these students cannot necessarily go to their parents for help, the Trio programs in any university are equipped and willing to help.

Giving advice to other first-generation students, Ellis said, “Seek help immediately, do not wait until things fall apart, don’t be afraid to ask questions and let people know you need help.”

As the competition to attain a meaningful job and career becomes increasingly fierce, more are realizing the need to blaze a trail in their family and be the first to go to college. Despite all of the obstacles, Ellis said, “College opens up too many doors for people not to take advantage of a higher education.”

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Photo illustration: Eric Voet/The Louisville Cardinal

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