Sunday, January 22, 2012

First Generation Students

Last semester, as part of one of my Counseling and Guidance classes, I participated in a group project that examined issues in the retention of low-income college students in higher education. In my research I encountered Jeff Davis' research on first generation college students.

Jeff Davis, an academic counselor and administrator at Sonoma State University, defines “first generation student” as “a student whose parents or guardians do not possess a four year degree”, Davis claims that very little attention has been given to problems such students face when they attend college. First generation college students are usually less prepared for post-secondary study, and often less knowledgeable about the college experience. Davis solicited first generation college students at Sonoma State to write about their experiences; their narratives, together with Davis' analysis and discussion of previous research are included in Davis' book, The First Generation Student Experience: Implications for Campus Practice, and Strategies for Improving Persistence and Success (Stylus Publishing, 2010)

Here are some of his recommendations:

First generation college students need remediation in higher numbers, proportionally speaking, than do non-first generation college students.

First generation college students need instruction in study skills, especially in studying for performance. (Studying smarter, not harder).

Many first generation college students need to be placed in study groups

First generation college students need specialized academic advising

First generation college students need help overcoming the “imposter phenomenon.”

First generation college students need to be enrolled in a “University 101” course.

First generation college students need a program that models the procedures and protocols of academic discussion and debate.

First generation college students need preregistration orientation to the institution.

First generation college students need help from the institution to resist the pressure exerted by family members, friends and the familiar to return the the home culture without a four year degree.

First generation college students need to be involved in the campus life.

First generation college students need more unstructured, informal public places on campus.

First generation college students need to develop personal relationships with faculty and non faculty staff members.

First generation college students need help in advancing their personal relationships with family members and friends from the home culture.

First generation college students need role models.

According to Davis' definition, I fit the definition of first generation student. Undoubtedly most of my peers at the time, on both sides of the Pacific, would also have qualified. My experience was "sink or swim" and I had (and was reluctant to accept) little guidance then. As I anticipate a complicated registration experience in these coming weeks, I hope Davis' work contributes to better student experience.

My life since May

It's the beginning of Spring semester 2012 and I'm now admitted (classified status) to the M.A. Counselor Education program. It's not been an easy path, and I've refrained from posting since I didn't want to winge (i.e. whine) about setbacks and forwards and issues. I made my decision to apply for Fall Semester 2012; since I was also applying for the SJSU part-time librarian list.(which also required transcripts). There were difficulties getting both transcripts and letters of recommendations but I got my application in by the end of September (for Spring semester-- applications opened), only to learn my application was denied because my overseas (Australian) degree wasn't considered equivalent. After talking with friends familiar with the California State University Admissions procedure, I met with the head of the department, who agreed (not immediately) to support my special status admission if I passed (with an A) the two Open University classes I was taking and got recommendations from my lecturers. I did, she followed through and I'm now in the program. Hurray! I don't think I would have persevered,if I'd encountered these barriers years ago. In the years to come, I expect I may be helping others navigate similar bureaucratic obstacles. Age and experience have helped. Thanks to all of those who've encouraged and supported me.