Breakout Recap: Understanding and Appealing to Low-Income and First-Generation Students
Breakout Recap: Understanding and Appealing to Low-Income and First-Generation StudentsKate Levin, Associate Director, External Communications
On Tuesday, Alyssia Coates, Director of the Office of Admissions Outreach and Engagement Recruiting at Notre Dame, and Lyssa Thaden, Manager of Partner Education at American Student Assistance, gathered to discuss the dynamics of supporting first-generation and low-income students in preparing for and applying to college.
Coates and Thaden shared strategies for identifying the differences and commonalities within this growing segment of society; information to support students in attaining postsecondary success; and best practices for how to tailor outreach to effectively appeal to these students and their families.
In developing strategies and recommendations, Coates drew from her research on cultural and social capital, or the skills and knowledge “assets” that drive social and economic mobility. Coates said many educators incorrectly presume that low-income and first-generation students know how to do key things, like study for exams; locate and fill out financial aid forms; or get information on the college application process.
“Not all first-generation or low-income students are the same, and they’re not all dealing with the same issues. We cannot label these students as low-achieving or expect that they have low expectations,” said Coates. “But many do feel like college is just not an option. They’re balancing the tension between what they’re learning in school and what they’re learning from their families or communities, which can create a lot of fear and stress about simply reaching out and asking questions. We need to encourage and build their confidence by promoting requisite skills – like reading, writing, and communication – so they can have the confidence to seek support.”
Coates encouraged educators to leverage the talents and successes of first-generation and low-income students, and the spirit and support of parents, to navigate the road to success and give them “a sense of how they can use their own gifts to accomplish their goals.”
Thaden added that even if educators can get low-income and first-generation students excited to go to college, often the next big barrier is “how do I fund the darn thing?”
“Knowledge about money just may not be there, and there is uncertainty about whether or not a college education is a good investment,” said Thaden. “It’s about getting these kids to understand that they are worthy of that investment, and getting someone to bet on themselves is a really big deal if they’re scared.”
“These kids encounter many competing priorities,” Coates said. “From family responsibilities and personal relationships, to lack of access to educational opportunity…these students are dealing with a lot. The message to students is constantly: you can do this,” said Coates.
Coates shared the work of Notre Dame’s Outreach and Engagement Recruitment efforts to identify and work with first-generation and low-income students in 7-9th grade across the country, developing support systems and programming to help move these students forward. The mission of the university is embodied in this work: to help students reach their fullest potential, and to give back to the community in the process.
Thaden ended by encouraging institutions to consider or support guaranteed tuition programs; state mandated financial literacy in K-12; partnering with other higher education institutions, K-12 systems and community-based organization to support students; adding financial education components to the entire admission process, such as special orientation, college 101, or senior capstone courses; and student leadership training and peer programming.