06 Apr Meet the information needs of first-gen families
College campuses around the country have a done remarkable job addressing the immediate needs of first-gen students from staging drive-up food pantries and loaning laptops to erecting community wi-fi hotspots and hosting online hangouts where students can remain connected to friends and student life organizations.
Now, it’s time to pivot and consider the additional supports they need in order to thrive, finish the semester with passing grades, and re-enroll for the fall term. These goals can be accomplished by intentionally engaging their parents/families.
The parents/families of first-gen students are an untapped resource. Two decades of research affirm that the parents/family of first gen and under-represented students are essential to their success in college. Some students do have unhealthy or unstable homelives, and they will benefit from the efforts already underway to help them remain connected and feel supported by faculty, staff and peers. But for those who do have a parent/family support system, it’s vital that we engage them now and enlist their help.
Parent Education Partners recommends a focus on these two initial priorities:
Why and how to provide appropriate emotional support – This seems intuitive, right? Of course, first-gen students need emotional support – all college students do. The new normal for many of the families of first-gen students is typified by stress, anxiety and uncertainty. Parents/families may find it hard to emotionally support their college student when they themselves are facing job losses and acute financial burdens while also adjusting to school closures, the supervision of young children, the care for elderly or vulnerable family members, and much more.
While research studies show that faculty impact student success through their mentorship and caring, the research also confirms that parents/family members are vital, especially for first gen and students of color. The bond these students have with their families and the emotional and aspirational support they receive from them directly correlates to positive outcomes, including higher grades, persistence and completion.
Historically, first-gen students and first-time freshmen struggle more than most other students with online courses. Not only is online learning entirely different from in-person instruction, but online courses also require a level of discipline and focus that is especially hard for students right now given the sudden disruption to their college experience and other family-related stressors.
The parents/families of first-gen students may assume that these courses are easier than taking traditional courses. After all, Gen Z students grew up with the Internet, smart phones, apps and social media. It’s important for parents/family to understand that online courses are often more difficult, so that they will empathize if their student is struggling, stressed or in need of additional emotional support. Furthermore, your parents/families may also appreciate guidance about how to provide appropriate emotional support while also honoring their student’s independence as adults.
We are family – Parents/families need good news and hope right now. One of the best ways to strengthen your bond with first-gen parents/families is to reinforce that “we are family.” They need reassurance that the campus cares about their student’s future and will do what it can to ensure he/she has the resources to return in the fall.
Financial constraints continue to be the major reason why students do not persist in degree programs. This is especially true for first-gen students.
This is the time to be proactive in communicating that your campus is actively working to secure more institutional scholarships. Discuss, in laymen’s terms, how Pell and other supports will be in place to help with tuition, fees and other expenses. Work with your Financial Aid Office to produce FAQs and perhaps even a short video to reinforce the institution’s commitment to first-gen students. Provide families with resource links and tips for accessing additional funds, so that their student can complete their degree at your campus.
In the weeks and months ahead, the parents/families of your first-gen students will need customized content, additional resources and information. Starting with these two key priorities will set your campus on the right path to opening communication and reinforcing what these parents/families care about most – that your institution is committed to their student’s well-being and personal success.
Ready-to-use content, specific for the families of first-gen students, is available at www.parenteducationpartners.com/resources. Our team is also available for short-term contracted support. Contact us at 615-436-4500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.