- Dr. Michael Preston, Executive Director, Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities
- Dr. Khristi Keefe, Early College Program School Counselor, Riverside High School
- Jonathon J. Milian, CAP Advisor, Jose Marti MAST 6-12 Academy
FCAN Host: Kimberly Lent, Assistant Director of Research and Policy
Opening Remarks: Evie Cummings, Assistant Provost and Director, UF Online
Along with serving as a source of pride for their respective families, first-generation college students comprise a significant portion of the postsecondary student landscape in Florida and beyond.
On Sept. 9, FCAN hosted a webinar highlighting some successful strategies for helping first-generation students transition from high school to college, along with some of the supports available to them once they arrive on campus — or begin their postsecondary education virtually.
Evie Cummings, Assistant Provost and Director of UF Online, noted that 51% of UF Online’s overall student population identify as “first-generation.”
“This is a tremendous moment for us as a university,” Cummings said. “It shows that if a top university really wants to shift its focus away from elite exclusivity and more toward access and meeting learners where they are, we can do so.”
The First-Generation Student Landscape
According to the Florida Department of Education, a student is considered “first-generation” if “neither parent earned a college degree at the baccalaureate level or higher.”
Nationwide, first-generation students were more likely to identify as Black, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander than their continuing-generation peers, according to an analysis of college students during the 2015-16 academic year by the Center for First-Generation Student Success.
The same analysis found that 56% had parents who did not have a bachelor’s degree, while 24% had parents with no education beyond high school at all.
“A significant portion of the students I work with are African American or they come from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, and they usually intend to be the first in their family to attend college,” said Dr. Khristi Keefe, Early College Program School Counselor for Riverside High in Jacksonville. “A majority of these students are also underrepresented in most of the universities in our area, which adds another layer to the challenge of attending college.”
Dr. Michael Preston, Executive Director of the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities, shared some statistics regarding first-generation college students in Florida. Among Florida institutions, 1 out of 4 students is “first-generation.”
Challenges for first-generation students
In Florida, 77% of first-generation college students had a household income below $50,000 in 2012, according to Preston. During that same year, more than 70% of their continuing education peers came from household incomes that exceeded $50,000.
Preston also noted that 56% of students who transferred from a state college to a university between 2012 and 2014 had parents with no college experience. As a result, Preston says the Florida Consortium — a collaborative partnership between Florida International University, University of Central Florida, and University of South Florida — has invested in its transfer success network, which can also help make a postsecondary education more affordable.
“For many of our first-generation students, their first stop is that state college,” Preston said. “So we certainly want to develop a relationship where they understand that the pathway to a four-year degree can absolutely go through their state college close to home.”
Meanwhile, Jonathon Milian, College Assistant Program (CAP) Advisor for Jose Marti MAST 6-12 Academy in Miami-Dade County, believes the COVID-19 pandemic has made many would-be first-generation, low-income students even more reluctant to pursue a postsecondary education
“These students have seen their neighborhoods — and, for some, their families — ripped apart as a result of the virus, so they feel the need to stay home and help out,” Milian said.
Milian also feels the pandemic could exacerbate the impact of “undermatching” for first-generation students, which refers to when a student does not a apply to a college that matches their academic profile. In fact, the bulk of applications from low-income students go to non-selective institutions.
“Many first-generation students don’t realize how the more competitive a college is, the less out-of-pocket dollars they may spend,” he said.
Supporting First-Generation Students
Milian shared some successful strategies for engaging students during the college-going process, including hosting a junior college camp, providing office hours, and bringing back alumni. But to give students the greatest chance to succeed, Milian said it is vital for schools and districts to invest in someone who can give their undivided attention to the college process.
“This can be a solution to our first-generation conundrum,” Milian said.
Preston noted that the three Florida Consortium institutions have adopted one or more programs from TRiO, the federally-funded program that assists first-generation, low-income, or disadvantaged students before and through college.
Meanwhile, Keefe shared some successful strategies from Riverside High, including a recent summer college conference spearheaded by students. Future Fest ’22 took place at the high school in July and was facilitated by student leaders following an assessment of their peers’ needs related to the college-going process. The summer conference featured college information sessions and college application assistance.
Keefe believes that keeping the lines of communication open is especially important with first-generation students and their families to ensure they succeed.
“We have to be very intentional in creating relationships with students and parents to understand what their needs are,” Keefe said.
FCAN thanks the following for their generous support of this webinar:
To learn more about supporting first-generation students — or to view the webinar and download the presentation — take advantage of these resources:
Be sure to visit our Past Webinars page for access to recordings and downloadable material from FCAN’s previous presentations.