First-generation BY MICHELLE SMITH
College Students Blaze Their Own Trail
n the couch of a living room condo in a St. Louis suburb, a mother and two sisters crowded around a large blue envelope, the contents of which would set the trajectory for the small family’s future.
“We all cried. It was like this coming to fruition or crossing of the finish line type of joy,” said Claire Webster, ’19, on receiving her acceptance letter to Rockhurst University. Webster is the first of her family to attend college, no small feat for the middle daughter of a single mother. Webster is in good company at Rockhurst and across the U.S. Thirty-four percent of undergraduate students attending college in the 2011-12 academic year were the first in their families to do so, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. While the majority of first-generation students attend public institutions, 20 percent of Rockhurst’s most recent freshman class falls into this category. Without the cultural capital of parents’ higher education experience to rely on, navigating the complexities of college can be tricky for first-generation students, particularly when it comes to financing their education. Many parents of firstgeneration students have no experience with applying for federal student aid or scholarships, creating a learning curve for students to find their own financial path. These are the families for whom financial assistance is most pertinent, compared to their non-first-generation counterparts. The median family income for freshmen whose parents did not attend college is $37,565, compared to $99,635 for those whose parents did, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. For many first-generation students, this means supplementing financial aid and scholarships with jobs. Continued on page 14
of the undergraduate students in the 2011-12 academic year were first-generation.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
(Left) Alexandra Meyer, junior, first-generation college student, works at a medical lab and grocery store to help finance her Rockhurst education.
The magazine for Rockhurst University.