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Partnership will aid first-gen college students

I am a first-generation college student, which I define as the first person in my family to attend and complete a four-year college degree.  When I was a senior in high school, I met my guidance counselor for the first time.

She was the only adult to ever ask me if I intended to go to college. Because neither of my parents had attended college (my Dad hadn’t even graduated high school), I told her “No” because I never even considered that as an option.

I ended up going to college several years later and made many mistakes along college decisionsthe way.  I took classes I didn’t need and signed financial contracts I didn’t understand all because I was overwhelmed and didn’t even know what questions to ask.  Because this was the 1980’s, though, college admissions and navigating the college experience was a LOT easier than it is today.

As a high school counselor for 28 years, I saw big changes happening inCollege admissions Martinsburg, West Virginia college admissions; costs were increasing dramatically and admission expectations were more challenging.  The impact on first-generation students was drastic and continues to this day.

As a result, in comparing first generation college students with their peers, whose parents did attend college, there are three Gaps these students face: the Opportunity Gap, the Awareness Gap and the Achievement Gap.  I have listed  a few of these statistics from a 2014 College Board study that show the challenges they face:

  • Opportunity Gaps:

    • Since 1990, the cost of in-state tuition has quintupled.
    • About 75.6% of first generation students in college need to work during their freshman year.
    • About 55% of first gen students require at least one remedial course, usually in math, in college. (The cost is the same as a college course, but no credit is received.)
  • Awareness Gaps:

    • Students don’t understand the college admissions’ process.scholarship
    • They don’t understand financial aid, FAFSA or scholarships.
    • Most first generation students or their parents don’t go on college visits or contact the college with questions, due to overwhelming feelings of discomfort and embarrassment.
  • Achievement Gaps:

    • Research supports that a student’s parent’s income plays a significant and direct role in educational completion rates.
    • Students of parents with a household income of up to $29,999 face tremendous odds, where only 16.9% earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, 23.3% earn an associates’ degree, 16% are still in high school, and 44% drop out.

A passion for first-generation students

I am very passionate about supporting first generation college bound students.  For the past three years, I have partnered with the counseling office at Spring Mills High School in Spring Mills, West Virginia to provide one-on-one counseling and guidance to some of their first-generation students on a pro-bono basis.

This year, Spring Mills High School and Launching College Success have been honored with a $2,500 grant from the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle. Their mission is to inspire and mobilize the community to create change.  This money will go a long way towards offering my services to more students.

This year, I am able to offer a practice SAT test to the students, as well as testing strategies that will help them to improve their scores to get into college.  The long-term hope of this partnership is to bring this program to other first-generation students within West Virginia who dream of a college education.

Both the Spring Mills High School Guidance Department and Launching College Success are grateful for the support and financial encouragement from the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle.


About Dianne Keilholtz