The importance of early exposure to college for first-generation and low-income students

Article written by Vickie LeFlore, Positive Youth Development Extension Educator. 
Originally published in the Kenosha News.

First-generation and low-income students often face many obstacles.

Jenna Kroboth wrote in a 2016 report, the barriers first-generation and low-income students face “make it difficult for them to move on to a post-secondary education.”

“Since higher education is no longer for the elite few, and the number of students attending colleges and universities is rapidly increasing, all students need the necessary resources to prepare for a college-ready future.”

Oftentimes, first-generation college students arrive on college campuses facing many barriers due to no fault of their own.

These barriers may stem from being academically unprepared, due to attending schools with a limited offering of advanced courses, lack of post-secondary exposure and financial challenges.

For students whose parents did not attend college, an extra layer of anxiety and stress is added as they navigate into this uncharted territory.

Investing in providing opportunities to first-generation and low-income students can result in a successful college academic journey.

Exposing kids to college

Early college has been in existence for a while, often viewed under the auspice of dual enrollment. Dual enrollment allows a high school student to take some college courses for credit.

However, today some colleges are offering enrichment programs for students as early as elementary.

It’s not unusual to see a second- or third-grader walking college campus hallways and receiving reading, writing or even STEM instruction.

The objective for most early college programming is to improve academic skills, increase parental involvement, encourage college enrollment, and increase financial/college awareness.

Benefits of early exposure

While early exposure helps to promote a college-going culture, it can also help build solid foundational connections with underrepresented students.

Some research suggests that middle and high schools should directly involve colleges and universities in their planning.

In bringing both partners to the table, students gain the benefit of the resources of the college/university as an extension of their academic preparation.

Providing early college exposure opportunities for first-generation college students can assist students in navigating college and the institutions of higher education in sustaining this population of students.

Students are able to learn the language and the steps that are required to help them in becoming admissible.

When elementary/middle/high school students have access to summer camps or other regular activities on a college campus, it enables them to learn to navigate a college campus.

Often, building this connection between the student and the institution can create a pathway to the student choosing to attend.

In addition, this may help with improving retention because the student is treading on familiar ground because of the early exposure.

Increasing confidence

Being exposed to being on a college campus can increase students’ confidence in their ability to attend college. This can provide students with some awareness of what to expect when they attend college.

For first-generation students who may not have the exposure to colleges and universities, having a proactive push can help in creating a college-going tradition for future generations within a family.

The attitude of their college-going capacity can be increased through these small but significant measures.

To find out more about programs through UW-Extension and various opportunities, browse our website at https://kenosha.uwex.edu/youth-development/.