Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Challenges, Persistence, and Success of White, Working-Class, First-Generation College Students

Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Challenges, Persistence, and Success of White, Working-Class, First-Generation College Students

Article excerpt

This essay addresses persistence and success of an underrepresented group enrolled in college who are white, working-class first-generation students. The discussion examines these college students and the challenges they face. The discussion analyzes why first-generation college students persist while others do not. Additionally, the discussion explores issues of access to some public universities due to socioeconomic status backgrounds and rising costs of higher education. Finally, the discussion examines programs used at many colleges and universities which support first-generation students and how this information can be employed to assist white, working-class first-generation college students to persist and succeed in higher education.

Introduction

Globalization and the rapid changes of technology have created a need for high-level work-related skills, which at a minimum require a four-year college degree. College has become an expensive venture, and the reward of attending college is a major influence why many students enroll (Smith & Zhang, 2009). The issue is while students enroll in four-year institutions, only 60% complete a bachelor's degree within six years (ACT Research and Policy, 2013). Within this group, there is an underrepresented group who are first-generation students. First-generation students make up approximately 34% of college or university's freshmen population (Stuber, 2011). While approximately one-third of first-generation students enter these institutions, only 73% return in their second year (Stebleton & Soria, 2012; Stuber, 2011). Additionally, this group will continue to increase (Forbus, Newbold, & Mehta, 2011; Longwell-Grice & Longwell-Grice, 2008). Research on this group primarily focused on low-income, first- generation students. There is little research conducted on first-generation students who are white and come from a working-class background. This group is challenged academically and socially in college (Forbus, Newbold, & Mehta, 2011; Thering, 2012). Stuber (2011) stated this student population falls below the educational institution's radar screen because they are profiled as a "racial majority and socioeconomic minority" (p. 120). What characterizes white, working-class, first-generation students? What are these first-generation students saying about college life? Why do most white, working-class, first-generation students persist while others do not? This discussion will explore what differentiates this student population, the challenges they face as they persist in the college environment, and how and why these students do persist. Additionally, the discussion will examine access to higher education and student-centered strategies to help this group succeed.

Defining the White, Working-Class, First-Generation College Student

What characterizes white, working-class, first-generation college students? For this discussion, 'white' is defined as being part of the white race (Stuber, 2011). Working-class is defined as students who have parents employed in occupations that require lower-level skills, lower pay, and do not need a college degree (Longwell-Grice & Longwell-Grice, 2008; Stuber, 2011). First-generation college students are defined as having parents who do not possess a college degree (Forbus, Newbold, & Mehta, 2011; Longwell-Grice & Longwell-Grice, 2008; Stebleton & Soria, 2012; Stuber, 2011). With a multitude of definitions that encompass this group, there are many challenges white, working-class, first-generation college students' face.

The Challenges

The complex challenges white, working-class, first-generation college students face include financial and emotional difficulties, and academic and social experiences (Forbus, Newbold, & Mehta, 2011; Stebleton & Soria, 2012; Thering, 2012; Wiggins, 2011). The financial constraints some students experience puts them in a position to commute back and forth to school instead of living on campus. …

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