First is Not the Worst: Experiences of First-Gen College Students

By Jacob Bibeault

Staff Writer

According to the Federal Higher Education Act, there are two definitions that qualify one as a first-generation college student: “an individual both of whose parents did not complete a baccalaureate degree,” or, more complexly, “any individual who regularly resided with and received support from only one parent, an individual whose only such parent did not complete a baccalaureate degree.” By the latter definition, I am considered a first-generation student, as I live with my mother (who did not graduate college), instead of living with my father (who did graduate college), but even that fails to tell the entire story, because my mother almost completed a baccalaureate degree. In fact, she was just a few credits short. 

Indeed, it is quite difficult to pinpoint what exactly defines someone as a “first-generation” college student, for there are a multitude of factors that contribute to this concept. However, despite the nebulousness of the term “first-generation,” Bridgewater State boasts that 52% of its students are first-generation. Because of my position as a “first-generation” student, I sought out other members of this 52% to compare their experiences with mine, and to determine what exactly it means to be “first-generation.”

I conducted interviews with first-year, first-generation students Tom Rouhana and Jared Mercier, who both live on campus. Tom, the son of two local business owners, cited his parents’ support, stating, “My parents love the idea of me getting an education and applying it to the workplace.” Similarly, the sentiments of Jared’s parents were also ones of support: “My parents always told me that getting an education was the most important thing to do, so they both really support me.” Tom, however, went on to discuss some his parents’ apprehensions, saying, “Their major concern is me being financially stable with my education choices. For instance, if I were to go into something that could set me off a beaten path of stability, they would discourage it.” In contrast, Jared’s financial concerns stem from his current circumstances: “It’s hard…because my parents don’t really have the money to support me through college.” In regard to the transition from high-school to college, Tom stated, “I have transitioned extraordinarily well, and am excelling in college,” which Jared echoed, “I have transitioned well and feel more comfortable here than at my high school.” 

Ultimately, it is easy to perceive first-generation college students as inherently disenfranchised, because their parents did not have the “college experience,” and thus may be unable to assist them with certain aspects of going to college. This is based on the general understanding of what it means to be “first-generation,” and, while elements of it may be true, it is important to note that all circumstances are different, and the experiences of Tom and Jared showcase this. For example, although Tom and Jared are not struggling with the transition, some first-generation students might be. However, there is one generalization that can be gleaned from these interviews—being the first, with all of its underlying implications, certainly does not make someone the worst.

  Image: How First-Generation Students Pay for their Education, via NCAA.org
Image: How First-Generation Students Pay for their Education, via NCAA.org

Jacob Bibeault is a Staff Writer for The Comment.

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