Students who struggle financially should be given every opportunity to succeed in college (Image via Element5 Digital)

Should First-Generation College Students Receive More Financial Aid?

If college life wasn’t stressful enough, the insurmountable burden of tuition costs should be the least of these student’s problems.

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If college life wasn’t stressful enough, the insurmountable burden of tuition costs should be the least of these student’s problems.

In 2018, it seems like almost everyone is going to college, even older students. If you explore the status quo from 40 years ago, you’ll discover how things were extremely different. In 1970, 8 million people attended college in the U.S., in comparison to the 20 million who attend today.

To put things in perspective, the 1970s was the time of the baby-boomers; it was common for families to have five or more children. Sending that many children to college during that time was probably still a luxury for many families, likely because they had lower paying jobs.

Fewer people were likely worried about going to college as jobs were accessible to most individuals. As a result, many students today are first-generation college students.

In that light, a controversial question comes into play: if aspiring college students can prove they are the first in their family to go to a university, should those students receive more financial aid? Receiving more aid would allow first-generation college students to advance their education without having to worry about the cost. Going to college is a huge accomplishment, so if someone is the first in their family to attend, they should be rewarded if they work hard.

A first-generation college student is officially defined as a student who is the first in their immediate family to attend college; neither their parents or grandparents received a degree. For example, if your father went to community college and obtained an associate’s degree, you would not be considered a first-generation student.

Being a first-generation student represents progress for most families. It represents hope and serves as a guide for younger generations. Indeed, the primary reason that people decide not to go to college do so because they can’t afford it.

Interestingly enough, 30 percent of college students are also the first in their family to attend. Furthermore, 87 percent of those students are from low-income families. Only 11 percent of those low-income students will be the first in their family to graduate from college.

According to the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas, first-generation college students have more ambition to obtain a degree than other students. According to this study, 47 percent of first-generation students made it their goal to transfer to a four-year college, while 56 percent of other students were fine with only earning an associate’s degree.

First-generation students also showed more of an interest in obtaining an associate’s degree or certificate. However, first-generation students are also more likely to drop out because of the added pressures in their lives.

Not going to college in 2018 may result in people bagging groceries for the rest of their lives. If that is somebody’s perfect job, then, by all means, they should pursue it. However, people have the right to branch out to achieve their dreams and not have to worry about how they are going to afford it.

Sure, some students attend college, obtain a degree and don’t find a job in their field, but they will still be able to find jobs which require a degree. These jobs will consequentially pay them a living salary that they can provide for their family with.

 

The process of snagging your graduate cap can be anything but simple (Image via Rochelle Nicole)

The average yearly salary for non-college educate households is about $35,000. Associate degree incomes average around $41,000 and bachelor’s degrees earn about $59,000 annually. Consequentially, income is much higher for graduate-level degree holders, and unemployment rates decrease the higher a degree is.

It is an unfortunately common issue that some people might have the brains to attend college, but not the funds. Why should they lose out on the opportunity to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer just because they can’t afford to attend an $18,000+ college each year? If they have the intellectual aptitude, they are justified in being offered the opportunity to succeed in their field.

First-generation college students face more obstacles than any other student. When they first step foot on campus, they have a lack of knowledge about the college experience. Although their families love and support them, there are no stories or advice to be passed down from them.

Going in blind can be a scary thing. Though many things have changed, the essentials — living on your own, leaving home and being responsible for oneself — remain the same.

College can be an isolating when you can’t afford to take part in certain college experiences (Image via Victoria Heath)

Another disadvantage first-generation students face is guilt for leaving home because most of them are the only English-speaking person in their household. Along with finances, these students can face issues with their social life. Opportunities like Greek life, clubs, weekend plans and study abroad experiences are typically hindered due to a lack of funds.

Family members and friends may not have attended college, so they don’t understand the anxiety that comes with college life. The students might feel abandoned along with the other struggles they are facing with classes.

Finally, along with many others, first-generation students can have a hard time fitting in. They may be far from home for the first time and must adapt to a completely new environment.

There are resources and organizations which offer scholarships to first-generation students, but not many people know about them. For example, the American Indian College Fund (AICF) Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship offers Alaskan Natives and American Indians the financial opportunity to attend college.

Americans owe over $1.4 trillion in college loans, spread across 44 million borrowers. College loan debt is about $620 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt. Shockingly, the average amount of the Class of 2016’s debt was $37,000 per graduate.

Having more financial aid packages might encourage students to stay in school and work harder to maintain the grants and scholarships they received. Furthermore, people might be further encouraged to attend college and finish their education if the cost wasn’t so substantial.

Shouldn’t first-generation students be rewarded for going to college, even though they probably can’t afford it? If they work hard, maintain good grades and have a passion for what they do, why shouldn’t they be compensated?

I can personally attest that, as a passionate and dedicated first-generation college student, more aid would help tremendously. I believe that it should be a mandatory thing for all the students who fit that niche if they are hardworking and prove their worth.

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