First generation college students deserve opportunity to succeed

Jesse Guadiana

As the state of Texas finds pride in the increasing number of first-generation students entering and graduating from colleges and universities all across the state, it is not necessarily indicative of their overall success in said institutions. Being the first in your immediate family to venture to college with pressures to succeed from all different directions can feel like a burden. The weight of this pressure is heightened even more than the average student who has already had others walk the same path before them.

As a student here at the University of Texas at Austin, the high expectations entering the state’s flagship institution became daunting. Like many of my peers, first-generation students come from either immigrant backgrounds or situations in which their parents were not in a privileged situation that adequately allowed them to explore the opportunity of a higher education. At this point, a natural source of social capital cannot be realized within the family structure and now stepping into the process of college in a disadvantaged state in comparison to their other peers. Before even stepping foot on a campus, selecting a university without the proper resources, in terms of what it looks like financially, within a 4–5 year plan, academic expectations and distance from home, can be challenging. These factors play a huge role in comfort at an institution, and sometimes not all students have the resources to allow themselves to be educated on the matter such as being able to take time off to visit these

institutions to give them better perspective on the decision.

Those factors are all highlighted here at our university, with such a unique student population covering the whole state and abroad, dimensions of our campus and living sectors, high academic rigor, newfound independence, lack of familial support system, and others, depending on self-identification. With all of these factors accounted for, it can be a lot to take in within the first weeks and days. Herein lies where the university can make the biggest difference in helping cope with the situation at a pivotal time in the trajectory of a successful academic career.

There are a handful of programs already that are aimed at helping students who, after being run through a metric taking into account for multiple factors, are objectively at high-risk of academic failure. However, our university needs to take a stronger stance in validating the unique experience that this population of students are facing, something which many other universities across the nation are doing. The “first-gen” experience needs to be tackled before the first day of school, to acclimate students to the university. As Kallen Dimitroff and I insisted in this year’s SG campaign, a “first-generation camp” would help to accomplish this. The camp would enable the incoming class of first-gen students to build a support network, engage with professional and academic resources across campus, as well as have administrative support throughout the entirety of their academic careers. This is not only critical for the first-generation community but also for our state and country’s future.

Guadiana is a government senior from Irving. Follow him on Twitter @jesseguadiana.