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Challenging The Traditional Notion of First-Generation

by Glenn Lang, EdD –

For those who are “first-generation” students and/or professionals and who may engage in programs designed to support first-generation students, You Never Stop Being First-Generation by Maria Ledesma is a thought-provoking article from Inside Higher Education that challenges the conventional concepts of first-generation.  The author challenges the traditional notion of programming and support for first-generation individuals (also referred to as first-gen). First-generation is generally described as a student from a family in which neither parent has completed a bachelor’s degree. Generally, initiatives targeted at first-generation students extend a continuum from middle school or high school and end upon attainment of an associate or bachelor’s degree.

She argues that that “limited continuum” (or conception of first-generation) needs to be extended to include graduate and professional schools and entry into the workforce (e.g. faculty) …. the truth is that first-generation-ness exists within a continuum. In other words, you never stop being first-generation but instead transition from one lived experience to another.”

The piece provides salient perspectives and recommendations for policy, programming, and types of support as we ponder the future directions for opportunity programs.

Usually coupled with varying low-income guidelines, first-generation is the basis for qualification and support for a variety of “Opportunity Programs” including Federal TRIO programs, Federal Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), a number of state-supported programs including The New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF), New York’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), The Arthur O. Eve Higher Educational Opportunity Program (HEOP), The Percy Ellis Sutton Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK)/College Discovery Programs, and Pennsylvania’s ACT 101 Program.

New Jersey continues to provided limited financial support for graduate and professional study through the Educational Opportunity Fund but had a more far-reaching Minority Access Program (MAC) for doctoral and dissertation study and faculty recruitment and Martin Luther Kind Medical/Dental and C. Clyde Ferguson Law Scholarships.  However, at this time the MAC program and the Scholarships are no longer funded.