NORFOLK, Neb. – A number of individuals across America are marking milestones in their families. They are first generation college students – the first member of their family in which neither of their parents/guardians earned a four-year degree. In most cases, students whose parents hold an associate degree or other certification are still classified as first-generation students.
The U.S. Department of Education reports 33% of higher education students are the first in their families to attend college. At Northeast Community College, the Institutional Research Office reports just over half of degree-seeking students were classified as first-generation while over 40%, or two out of five fall credit students, were first-generation in the same time frame.
This week, Northeast Community College’s TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) program held a celebration to recognize first-generation college students at the institution. They were invited to stop by the TRIO office to sign a “Proud to be 1st” banner and share stories and successes with one another and others.
Josh Becker, director of TRIO at Northeast, said the first-generation event was an important day to celebrate, not only within TRIO, but throughout the entire college community.
“So many of us here at Northeast are or were once first-generation college students. The barriers that are placed in front of a student who is without a clear path on their academic journey can feel insurmountable,” he said. “It is the courage and determination in our students that leads them to become the ‘first in their family’ to succeed in higher education, and we are so pleased and proud to highlight their stories.”
Becker said he and the TRIO advisors created a display that demonstrates the success stories of first-generation students which can be displayed in the years to come to show others that they are not alone in their journey and that they too can create their own success.
“First-generation college students are a significant proportion of those supported by TRIO-SSS here at Northeast, and it is our privilege to support them achieve their goals and show them a roadmap of success.”
In addition to assisting first-generation students, TRIO works with income-eligible individuals and those with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline to post-baccalaureate programs.
The Center for First-Generation Student Success reports that colleges and universities across the nation recognized Nov. 8 as the date to observe the annual National First-Generation College Celebration to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The Higher Education Act (“HEA”) emerged out of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
Much like other hallmark legislation of that era, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, HEA was intended to help level a playing field that for too long had been weighed against Americans from minority and low-income backgrounds. In addition to creating federal grants and loan programs to help students finance their educations, the legislation made key investments in institutions of higher education. Additionally, HEA ushered in programs, particularly the Federal TRIO programs, necessary for postsecondary access, retention, and completion for income-eligible, potential first-generation college graduates.