Giving Compass' Take:

• La’Tonya Rease Miles discusses the unique ways that colleges can support first-generation students. 

• What are the needs of first-generation students in your community? How are colleges already working to support first-generation students? 

• Learn about an inter-school program to support first-generation students at Ivy-league schools

What are some things about a first-generation student that’s different from other students, and what are some things colleges are starting to do to support them?

La’Tonya Rease Miles: They call it first generation, but it can be a misnomer because we’re not necessarily talking literally the first. You could have an older sibling [who went to college] or whatnot. But the whole point is that these students may not have parents who have college-going knowledge specific to the U.S. Even here at UCLA, our definition is perhaps considered broad because we will say even if your parent received a degree, let’s say from the Philippines, they probably have very little knowledge about how to navigate this system. It just means those students may be disadvantaged in terms of knowing the hidden curriculum of college.

It’s really important when people are doing work with first-gen students that they understand who their students are. It doesn’t matter what’s happening at UCLA if you’re at a different type of institution. So a student, a first-gen student at a two-year university is going to have a very different one than a four-year private Jesuit or a research public [institution].

At Loyola Marymount University, for example, it’s known for its study-abroad opportunities and for alternative-break opportunities. But then the gaps we saw was where first-gen students weren’t participating. So that was unique to that particular campus. And what we ended up doing was creating opportunities for study abroad and alternative breaks with first-gen students and first-gen faculty and staff. [Because] a first-gen student may or may not get that information and may be less likely to ask for support. Or they may be feeling guilty about studying abroad because if you’re the first person in your family to go to college, it’s going to be really hard for you to tell your mom and dad, “Hey, can I go study abroad and Europe?”

Whereas here at UCLA we had different concerns. We focus more on explaining what a research institution is to the student and the parents and families. If you’re in the humanities or you’re in art or you’re a dance major at UCLA, you’re going to have an especially hard time explaining to your parents why you came to a school like this and want to get an art degree or a dance degree. And so then we have tailored conversations for those students.

Read the full interview with La’Tonya Rease Miles about supporting first-gen students by Jeffrey R. Young at EdSurge.