Prepping first-gen college students begins in high school
- While first-generation college students make up about a third of undergraduates, they complete their bachelor’s degrees at a rate that is less than half than that of students with a college graduate parent, Edutopia reports. That's why some high schools are developing specific strategies to prepare these students to survive the rigors and structure of the college environment.
- Early College High School, a public charter school located on the campus of Delaware State University, for example, works to prepare freshmen for college classes by their sophomore year so they can begin earning college credit. The teachers also incorporate strategies, such as assigning engaging but academically challenging projects and frequently assessing students not only on academics, but also on factors that can impact college success, such as work ethic, attendance and behavior.
- Impact Academy of Arts and Technology in Hayward, California, another example, is not on a college campus, but educators there organize field trips to different types of colleges and provide instruction on topics such as college financing, roommate conflict resolution and accessing academic resources on campus. School leaders also incorporate project-based learning to teach collaboration and hold office hours so students learn how to ask for help when they need it.
While many college students find completing their degree challenging, first-generation college students face special challenges. Without family members who have navigated the college admission process and campus experience successfully, these students often don’t know where to go for the support and resources they need to succeed. The goal of high school education is to make students college and career ready, so identifying these first-gen prospective college students early can allow schools to better prepare them to navigate the college experience more successfully.
While the two high schools mentioned in the article take different approaches to preparing these students, they provide some common lessons that can be translated to most high school settings. First, both schools offered more rigorous academic experiences to prepare students for college-level work. Second, they both tried to prepare students for the campus experience either by exposing them to college settings during field trips or by modeling college-style academic experiences on campus. Third, they both placed a strong emphasis on encouraging students to succeed and on rewarding milestones toward that success.
The focus on encouragement can have a larger effect than simple good will and positive feelings. An article in The Atlantic recounted a study published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology focusing on 7th graders at New England middle school. The students were assigned essays and, as the researchers graded the work, they randomly attached sticky notes, half with a simple message saying "I'm giving you these comments so that you'll have feedback on your paper" and the other half with a note saying, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them.” Students were then given the opportunity to revise the essays. The results were telling. Among African-American students, 72% who received the encouraging note chose to revise their essay compared to 17% who received the basic note. For white students, the results were 87% compared to 62% who received no encouragement.
Many of these same strategies can be used to prepare students for career opportunities as well, especially as many of the skills required for college readiness — such as problem solving, time management, leadership, communication skills and collaboration — are also required in the modern workplace. Research by the The Education Trust, however, suggests that many schools are not adequately preparing students for college or a career. High school can be the perfect setting in which students can practice the skills that will help them be successful in college or the workplace. But those that face more obstacles along the way will require a wide range of strategies and support to persevere through the transition.