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According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, 56% of college students’ parents have not attained bachelor’s degrees. The population of first-generation students is a growing majority, but these students are struggling to obtain their degrees, and 90% of these students are not graduating on time. These students deserve to be uplifted by the UC system and all educational institutions as they balance demands that the rest of the student body is not forced to. Higher educational institutions need to facilitate the untraditional college journey better and create greater financial support for students who take longer than four years to graduate.

First-generation college students face a number of unique challenges. For starters, many of these students are from low-income backgrounds and people of color. On top of the struggles of paying tuition and other costs, many first-generation students don’t have the parental support they need. Parents who did not attend college will be inherently unfamiliar with the college application process or how to fill out the FAFSA application. Additionally, they will not be able to relate to their children’s struggles in college the way a parent who did attend college might. There is displacement for first-generation students at home and on campus. Their status differentiates them from both their family and students whose parents can help and relate to them in this manner. 

Schools in the U.S. desperately need to expand college readiness programs beyond their meager existence to guide high school students through the complicated process of applying for and preparing for higher education because parents, even those who have gone through the process, are simply not equipped to handle the painfully complicated requirements. Getting into college is more than being deserving; it means working the system and knowing how to handle the enormous amount of bureaucracy. No parent or student is fully equipped to handle that when there is a huge gap in college preparation curriculum regarding who receives it. Not everyone has the financial resources to pay for tutoring and prep courses, and they shouldn’t have to.

Furthermore, students from low-income backgrounds can carry financial obligations for their families and themselves. There is a difference between being a college student who has responsibility for themselves and their classes and being a student who is responsible for the physical, emotional and financial care of others. Students should not have to make these sacrifices, especially when factoring in the toll it may take on their academic and professional success.

There is also a lot of responsibility for first-generation students when they carry a legacy on their backs along with their own future. Families sacrifice and make choices all in an effort to give their children the opportunity to attend college, and students can feel a lot of pressure to be successful in order to make those aforementioned sacrifices worth it.

First-generation students face roadblocks when it comes to socializing on campus as well. With financial, work and family obligations, it leaves little time for building friendships and networking with other students. Students have less time to get involved with professional organizations or make professional connections. These students face unintentional penalties for their status. While UC Riverside and the remainder of the UC system offer a number of resources, it is simply not enough to erase the gap. Support needs to start far earlier than college enrollment.

While it is vital that first-generation college students have resources, mentors on campus and supportive faculty, there needs to be greater expectations of K-12 institutions to foster these students’ futures. These students cannot be left out to dry and then dropped headfirst into university life. As early as middle school, these children should be given information and support from counselors and instructors. Things as simple as parent informational sessions or classes on writing personal statements would make a world of difference. As the population of first-generation college students expands, they cannot continue to be denied their right to an education.

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    The Highlander editorials reflect the majority view of the Highlander Editorial Board. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Associated Students of UCR or the University of California system.