By Elizabeth Exline
When Joshua Grove began his Bachelor of Science in Business with a General Management Certificate program at University of Phoenix (UOPX), he faced a multitude of challenges.
He was a first-generation college student with little understanding of the application process or university experience and no one to learn from. He’d never written an essay in his life, he says, and didn’t know more than five “useful buttons” on a calculator. He assumed he’d spend his life working in manual labor because college was “for other people.”
According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success (and the federal government, which it cites), the definition of a first-generation college student is a person whose “biological parents did not complete a four-year college degree.”
Like Grove, Kalen Baliles found himself in this group when he took a job with a gas and oil company after high school. His dad had been in the Air Force and had completed some college courses but never earned a degree. His mom didn’t attend college.
Yet the expectation to prioritize his education was still there for Baliles. In high school, he recalls, he had to keep up his grades to play sports or go out with friends.
Those turned out to be seeds that flourished by the time Baliles was holding down a full-time job in 2012. “It was a dream to go back and actually finish [college] and show my family, ‘Hey, we can do this,’” the UOPX alumnus says.
How much education your parents have, in other words, greatly predicts how much education you will have. And education directly affects your earning potential.
It’s also worth noting that, even though first-generation college graduates may earn less than continuing-generation graduates, they’re still earning more than the national annual mean wage, which was $56,310 in May 2020, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So, what specific challenges do first-generation college students face? And how can they overcome them? Read on.