Students who are the first in their family to go to college are less likely to graduate within six years than their continuing-generation peers, but there are ways to combat this stunning statistic, and Project Inspire’s programming is an effort to do just that. The decreased likelihood of first-generation college students graduating within six years can be attributed to the fact that first-generation students represent some of the most vulnerable populations in college – they are more likely to be female, older, African-American or Hispanic, and from lower-income families (Engle, Bermeo, & O’Brien, 2006).
In addition to these demographic differences, first-generation students are more likely to feel a cultural and emotional divide between their home lives and college experiences. Since they are the first in their families to attend college, they are often unable to reach out to family members to help them navigate this new and difficult experience (Stebleton & Soria, 2012; Banks-Santilli, 2014; Engle, 2007). This lack of familial knowledge means that without mentors, first-generation students are often unable to take advantage of the full range of resources available to them, including on-campus support resources, which have been shown to increase graduation rates (Vargas, 2004; Pike and Kuh, 2005).
However, mentoring has been shown to help college students, particularly first-generation students, navigate the new bureaucracy of college, and ultimately increase retention and graduation rates. A Gallup study found that “feeling supported and having deep learning experiences during college means everything when it comes to long-term outcomes,” and that having a mentor was a key component of that feeling of support. Additionally, a 2011 study found that students who were paired with mentors were more likely to continue on to the next year of college, and ultimately graduate, than those who did not have mentors.
Project Inspire works to provide mentorship to our students because we understand its profound impact. As part of our professional development series, professionals from students’ communities connect with and speak to them about what to expect in their college and professional lives. During the application process for the Daphne L.Valcin Scholarship for Creative Minds students are placed with a mentor who is in a career field that is directly aligned with the scholarship applicant’s interest and can offer them guidance on navigating college cultures. The scholarship application process and professional development series also creates a peer network of scholarship students to support one another in their college journeys. Through these programs, Project Inspire is able to connect students with mentors and peers who can help provide the academic, professional, and emotional support that our students need to make it to and through college.
Even as Project Inspire often focuses on youth who are first-generation college students, resources like ours help all our students to defy the odds against them and to embrace countless opportunities for college and career success.
Post by Project Inspire guest blogger, Colette Tipper
Photo credit: Global Health Fellows Program (Flickr)