SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Being the first to accomplish something can come with a lot of pride and prestige. But, sometimes, it’s lonely at the top. That can be true for first generation college students.
The term first generation can be broad, but applies to a student who is the first in his or her family to go to or graduate from college. However, not having someone who went before you to show you the way can create a number of challenges. The University of South Dakota is trying to help.
USD is a busy place. You’ll see thousands of students on-campus, walking from class to class. Some days, though, you’ll find USD junior Victoria Mendoza at the federal courthouse in Sioux Falls. She wants to be an attorney, and says her internship there is a real highlight of her college career.
“I would like to be hopefully helping society in some way,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza is a first generation college student, and will become the first in her family to graduate.
“I’m really working toward something I want and it’s just not something that’s far away and impossible. Now it’s super obtainable. That’s something I’m so grateful for,” Mendoza said.
She says her three older siblings all attempted to go to college, but it didn’t work out for them. It’ll be a huge honor to be the first, but there’s also a lot of pressure.
“Because you are the first person to go to college, so you’re expected to do great things,” Mendoza said.
Inside Higher Ed researchers looked at enrollment rates of college students who were first generation and non-first generation — meaning at least one parent had college experience. Non-first gen rates came in at more than 97-percent. First gen students enrolled in college came in at more than nearly 78 percent. That’s almost a 20-percent difference.
“Students are far more likely to go on to higher education if their parents have gone. I think, in some respects, it’s easier to navigate the process, because their parents went through it,” Sheila Gestring, USD President, said.
USD is celebrating students who are the first to go to college this week. Of about 7,000 undergrads there, Gestring says about 20-percent of them are first gen students. She says USD has programs to help these students navigate their way through college and stay here until graduation.
“There’s a lot research out there that a student that engages in a student organization or makes a connection to faculty or staff member in a mentorship role, perhaps, those students have a much higher likelihood of completing a degree,” Gestring said.
Gestring points to the TRIO program, a resource developed in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s era to help new American students, first generation students, and students from low incomes.
“Once a person starts down the path of higher education, we really need to work with them to make sure they stay on track,” Gestring said.
These are just some resources that have made the new world of college easier for Mendoza.
“The more resources we have, the more success we have into graduating and that helps with retention rates,” Mendoza said.
Her future generations may not be the first to go to college, but Mendoza hopes her work now will help them win.
“I want to set an example to future generations of my family, because I am the first one to do it and I really want to set an example to my parents and make them proud as well as my siblings. And to anybody who really looks at a first generation minority student and is just like, hey, you can do that, too,” Mendoza said.
To learn more about resources to help first generation students, click here.