Colleges increasingly reaching out to parents of first-gen students

Recognizing parents’ role in supporting first-generation student success, colleges and universities are taking steps to build stronger relationships with those families, according to The Hechinger Report. About one-third of students whose parents did not go to college drop out within three years, compared to 14 percent of students whose parents have bachelor’s degrees.

Parents of first-generation students have needs that “are very different at times than the rest of the parent cohorts,” said Daphne Rankin, Virginia Commonwealth University’s associate vice provost and an advisor to the Center for First-Generation Student Success. Often unfamiliar with the inner-workings and expectations of college, they can “make the transition for students even harder without realizing it,” Rankin told The Hechinger Report.

Welcoming, connecting, and supporting first-gen parents

Schools like UCLA are increasing collaboration between their office for first-generation students and office of parent and family programs. Now, when first-generation students move to UCLA’s campus, the university invites their parents to attend a special reception featuring on-site translators.

Other institutions are prioritizing virtual outreach, creating Facebook groups and online courses to connect parents of first-generation students. Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania last fall piloted a seven-week interactive online course for more than 200 parents of first-year students. The video course—now available as online recordings—touched on topics like campus life; campus services; tuition changes; separation anxiety; the stress of midterms and finals; and how parents can talk to their children about their social, financial, and academic lives. “Often, parents want to know how to ask certain questions to their students, or how to talk to their kids about relationships [on campus],” said Celestino Limas, the vice president for student life at Elizabethtown College.

The federal government also has expanded a program called Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (Gear Up) to engage parents in helping their students succeed. It brings parents together to discuss and share tips on campus safety and financial aid. Even before college, Gear Up works with students and parents to help them navigate the college admissions process. In recent years, the organization has moved toward a coaching model—rather than holding group activities—in order to offer more personalized assistance to individual parents.

“Institutions are finally understanding, especially for first-generation college families, the family goes together,” said Lorena Gasca, the senior program manager for Gear Up’s college transition team. “The student is the one who takes the classes, but it’s a family event.”

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