MU First Generation Students Need Programming

MU Students Need ProgrammingBeing a first generation student can be really difficult, especially when your parents are from a different culture. Monmouth University could benefit from better programming to assist their students in their transition to college life.

Did you know that Monmouth University’s demographic data on first generation students is nearly half our student body? Two most recent facts-in-brief publications indicate that the fall 2015 incoming class was 42.9% first generation and the fall 2016 incoming class was 40.7% first generation.

Like many others, I am one of those first generation college students. Among our fellow students, there are a number of families that immigrated here to provide a better life and to be able to have the opportunity to live the American Dream.

Being a first generation student means having to get accustomed to having a lot of unknown variables. In many cases, this means that parents’ educations stopped at either high school or below. This in turn meant that students are forced to educate themselves on not just books and math and such, but also FAFSA applications, college applications, and extracurriculars--if that was a possibility. This adds to the foggy understanding of the American college application process. While universities can’t assist students in the application process, they can have an influence in helping in the transition of accepted students. 

Sophomore computer science student, Davina Matadin, said, “Our campus needs to truly understand the challenges of a first generation student. I believe that Monmouth University needs to have a separate program during orientation to explain some of the transitions into college life in more detail,” said Matadin.

“While first generation students get into Monmouth, there needs to be more action on helping these students stay in college. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and incomes, and it can be harder for others,” she continued.

Matadin mentioned that there needs to be a better understanding and that an initiative could happen through New Student Orientation which takes place over the summer for incoming freshmen students. Many first generation students agreed that their freshman year was filled with a lot of questions and not enough answers.

“It would be greatly appreciated if Monmouth University could understand that college can be a new experience for not only the student, but for the entire family as well,” Matadin added.

First generation students also may have to take into consideration a language barrier between the rest of the world and their family. Because of this many students end up acting as a parent, a translator, and also a student at the same time. It has been my experience that many high schools do not have the capability or the willingness to work with first generation students and their families. 

After talking to a number of first generation students, many expressed that there are days where they feel like giving up, where the work could feel unbearable, and some days they could feel really helpless.

Adding to that stress, financing college for first generation students is even harder--a lot of the time, parents cannot help or cannot help as much in giving guidance when it comes to how we can afford to pay hundreds and thousands of dollars to cover tuition fees. Figuring out how to take out loans, pay for books, and finance college is already difficult, and doing it alone can be even more difficult.

Furthermore, current students who are first generation, simply do not have all the resources they need to know about furthering their education or what comes next after graduation.

Dominique Williams, a senior political science and legal studies student, said, “I wish I had known that there is a plethora of scholarships designated for college seniors. If I would have had someone in my family who experienced college, there are a lot of things I would have done differently.”

Claude Taylor, Advisor-in-Residence for Academic Transition and Inclusion, said, “I like the first generation student programs that have been developed at colleges like Clemson and American University. Some of the features of these programs would be interesting to consider for first generation students at Monmouth.”

Schools like Clemson University offer Mentoring Programs that provide a great opportunity to learn from older students who have had similar experiences. First, participants are paired with a thriving junior or senior mentor in a similar field of study; mentors are also students who are the first in their family to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Mentors meet with students weekly to give support, encouragement and advice about succeeding at Clemson. They can give you the scoop about a class or help you out with a roommate issue. You will meet other new students in your mentor group who can become an instant group of friends on campus.

Clemson also provides a first summer preview program for their first generation students. Here, incoming first generation students are invited to campus to complete a 3-credit Clemson academic course during the summer. They experience the academic rigor of college and get familiar with campus while building lasting friendships. This is much like our own Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program.

What Monmouth could do to help these first generation students who need their assistance when it comes to furthering their education, is create a specific department or office solely dedicated to bettering the educational experience of first generation students. Having an outlet for all first generation students to come together and be able to share in their experiences would really help with dealing with the issues that students like myself deal with every day.

I, along with a number of other first generation college students, can only hope for Monmouth University to better their programming for first generation students by creating programs like Clemson University and American University in order to do better for their first generation students. Some of the hardest working people come from this type of background, but we are goal driven, ambitious students who need these programs so we too can exponentially thrive without being deterred and frightened in any way.

PHOTO COURTESY of Claudia Di Mondo