Let me set up the scene: It was a hot, humid September morning in 2007. I was moving in to my Residence Hall along with thousands of incoming freshmen. Both of my parents were with me to drop me off and to see where I will be in the next 10 months of my life. This is the first for the three of us. I was the first kid going to college and honestly, would be the last. I’m the youngest so that means that in a traditional sense, I would be the first and only kid to ever move into a Residence Hall and have the traditional college experience.
Before this scene ever happened, I had to maneuver my way through a very confusing process. As a first generation college student and an immigrant, I had to figure out how the process worked. When the conversation about college started with my parents, I was expected to attend the local community college about 10 minutes away from home. There is nothing wrong with attending a community college, it would have been more affordable, and would have kept me closer to home. However, I knew that I wanted to attend a four-year institution so I started speaking to my high school counselor. I was lucky enough to have had an attentive Counselor who helped me get into an overnight program at Ohio State University. However, even with her help, I still had to figure out the admission process, scholarship applications, FAFSA, financial aid, university housing application, orientation, major declaration, and scheduling classes. No one really talked to me about the differences between a subsidized and unsubsidized loan. No one mentioned what a Pell Grant was and that every year while in college, I could have applied for more scholarships that was offered at Ohio State. No one mentioned how financially burdensome a private loan could be. These are important conversations to have with our students, especially those who are first generation students. According to Zack Friedman (Forbes, 2017), student loan debt is the second highest consumer debt category just behind mortgage. We collectively owe $1.3 million. It is our job in Higher Education to make sure that we help our students navigate life during and after college.
My parents, even as supportive as they were, didn’t know how to help me when I started college. Neither one of them had the experiences nor the resources to help me, which I don’t blame them for. It was hard for my mom, who moved from the Philippines with me to help me navigate my way through higher education in America. My dad, who is an American but didn’t have any of his other children go to college, also couldn’t help me as much as he wished. I can imagine that my experience is not unique. I, also, am aware that many of our students (especially students of color), face the same things I did. Many Higher Ed professionals are first generation students too. We should make it a point to mentor our students. If you don’t have an organization in your institution to match first generation faculty and staff with first generation students, then I suggest professionals create one so that we can help our first generation students. I have seen the positive impact of an organization like this while in graduate school, supporting those who first generation undergraduates. We see students get accepted in universities, but many of them don’t stay because of their various hardships and lack of information.
That 18 year old from 2007 has faced many obstacles, but managed to end up becoming successful. Let’s all remember what our 18-year-old selves would have needed and let’s try to be that for our students so that we can ensure they successfully get through college.
Catherine Molleno (She/Her/Hers) is the Director of Housing and Residence Life at Louisiana State University-Eunice. Catherine has over 8 years of experience working in student affairs at various institutions across the country, including The Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, and Lamar University. Catherine has a varied professional experience and passion for planning campus activities and student engagement as well as a passion for underrepresented and disenfranchised student populations. Follow Catherine on Twitter for further conversations and dialogue: @catmolleno.
Reference: Friedman, Z. (2017, February 21). Student Loan Debt In 2017: A $1.3 Trillion Crisis. Retrieved February 8, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2017/02/21/student-loan-debt-statistics-2017/#111423b65dab