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Voices of the Global Community


Joseph E. Murray, First-Generation College Student Advising Interest Group Chair, Miami University Hamilton Campus 
Ila Schauer, Prairie View A&M University
Chris Bennett Klefeker , Miami University Hamilton Campus

As we continue to study First Generation College Students, we become increasingly aware of several subgroups within this special population of students. We can identify adult students with family and job responsibilities, those who are among the first in their families to be born in this country, and foster care alumni who are aging out of the foster care system as three subgroups advisors can assist. Each of these groups faces particular issues as they seek a college education. A closer look at these students reveals special needs that academic advisors must take into account if they are to provide these students with the care they require to succeed.

Adult Students

Much has been written about adult students who face special hurdles while striving to get the education they need to better their lives. Cook (2004) notes that the American Council on Education report on low income students includes a profile of low-income adult students and the challenges they face. Often these adult college students must study after the children are in bed and they themselves are tired from the day. The combination of school and family adds a level of stress seldom faced by traditional-aged students. Many adult students work full-time and find that required courses may not be offered at times compatible with their work schedules. They often are faced with the decision to leave school, enroll in online courses, or take a part-time job and borrow money.

First Generation Born in the Country

There is a small body of literature that discusses the special requirements of students whose parents immigrated to the U.S. and Canada. There are obvious issues when the country’s primary language is not spoken in the home and students must move between two cultures. These issues can be compounded when advisors apply theories of identity development in college students to these students. Alessandra and Nelson (2005) illuminate the challenges these students face in constructing a sense of self while dealing with their parents’ attempt to incorporate the values, language and customs of their home country. Therefore, these students may feel some identity confusion as they try to fit in on the college campus.

Conversely, Alessandra and Nelson (2005) found that students who are the children of immigrants scored higher on self-esteem scales than students whose parents were born in the U.S. Alessandra and Nelson speculated that the action of moving from a familiar country to another culture requires high self-esteem. Thus, these parents may demonstrate a high resilience; their children’s ethnic pride may be a positive rather than a negative factor on the college campus.

However, Fry (2002) reports that while Latino students enroll in college at a very high rate, they are far less likely to graduate than students from any other ethnicity. Many Latino students choose to attend part-time, attend two-year schools, and attend at a later age than their peers. Thus, they face powerful forces in their communities, their families and their checkbooks. Fry points to a lack of support systems and underfunded high schools as two possible reasons for this low graduation rate.

Foster care alumni

Foster youth who “age out” of the foster care system are often left out of the mix when it comes to college applications. While the “system” possibly addresses their problems in terms of money (and indeed scholarships are important), readiness for college, a place to live, counseling, and connections are all necessary for college success. Wolanin (2005) noted that programs addressing independent living support for foster children are serving only about half of those eligible.

Burley and Halpern (2001) suggest that only about half of foster youth complete high school; thus the stage is set for low college entrance rates even though as many as 70% of foster youth want to go to college (Wolanin, 2005). These students are fully aware that a college education is necessary for their success, but often their secondary school experience is a large deficit; their lack of knowledge regarding the application, admission, and financial assistance for college is a challenge many are unable to surmount (Wolanin, 2005).

Once the fortunate few foster care alumni make it to a college campus, they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. College can be overwhelming for those not equipped with the independent living skills necessary for college success. These students do not know where to seek help and many are hesitant to ask for it. Maturity issues, poverty, absence of support systems, unfamiliarity with the procedures, and lack of assistance from colleges—all add up to confusion and uncertainty for these foster care alumni. Indeed, under 2% of these young people receive a bachelor’s degree within a few years of their emancipation (Casey Family, 2006).

What can be done to help these students?

While the issues raised in this article need more study, academic advisors should be familiar with the programs that effectively address the outlined problems. Outstanding examples are the TRIO and McNair Scholars programs, which are federal education programs designed to target students from disadvantaged backgrounds and help support and motivate them to continue their education. Hahs-Vaughn (2004) noted that first generation students need to be connected to academic and social support programs before they go to college; programs such as Upward Bound work with these students even in elementary or secondary school. Mentoring programs are vitally important for first generation students and are especially valuable for the aforementioned subgroups.

Community colleges can serve a common starting point for these students. More pro-active agreements between community colleges and universities can be of great value to these students.


The First Generation College Student Interest Group continues to explore ways to advise and support students; one way to do this is to study the issues which affect them. This article has touched briefly on three subgroups within this special population. Obviously each of these groups merits their own research to explore not only their needs but also the strengths they demonstrate.

Ila Schauer
Professional Advisor
Prairie View A&M University

Joseph E. Murray
Director for Academic Advising and Retention
Miami University Hamilton Campus

Chris Bennett Klefeker
Academic Adviser and Retention Specialist
Miami University Hamilton Campus


Allesandria, K. P. and Nelson, E. (Jan/Feb 2005). Identity development and self-esteem of first-generation American college students: An exploratory study. Journal of College Student Development.

Burley, M and Halpern M. (2001). Educational Attainment of Foster Youth : Achievement and Graduation Outcomes for Children in State Care. Washington State Institute for Public Policy. Retrieved November 2, 2007 from www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/FCEDReport.pdf

Casey Family Programs. (2006). It’s my life: Postsecondary education and training. Seattle, WA: Casey Family Programs.

Cook, B. with J.E. King, A.P. Carnevale and D.M. Desrochers. (Feb 2004). Low-Income Adults in Profile: Improving Lives Through Higher Education. American Council on Education, Center for Policy Analysis.

Fry, R. ( September 5, 2002 ). Latinos in higher education: Many enroll, too few graduate. Pew Hispanic Center.

Hahs-Vaughn, D. (2004). The impact of parents’ education level on college students: An analysis using the beginning postsecondary students’ longitudinal study 1990-92/94.Journal of College Student Development.

Wolanin, T.R. (December 2005). Higher education opportunities for foster youth: A primer for policymakers. The Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Cite this article using APA style as: Murray, J., Schauer, I. & Bennett Klefeker, C. (2007, December). Advising first generation students. Academic Advising Today, 30(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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