I was listening today to a college president answer a question about why more academically gifted or capable first generation and/or low income students are not pursuing Ivy League or ‘high ticket /big city’ college opportunities.
Financial aid or money support isn’t the only issue, he said referencing a number of students he had seen go to top notch schools on full scholarship but not do well. Often, he stated, students also need to be matched culturally as well.
A student’s access to higher educational opportunities are often most dependent on academic prowess and availability of financial aid. A bit of encouragement, timing and luck helps too!
For a student to be successful attending a university or college away from home takes a ‘village of support’ including guiding communication both before and once arriving on campus with both the student and their network of support (family, mentors, and, when the student chooses, a broader community to increase their confidence and comfort level.
This need is there for all students out of their normal cultural environment.
This cultural match is particularly crucial for low-income, first-generation, rural students who are academically astute but unsure of higher education opportunities 'away from home' due to lack of experiences and feeling 'like a fish out of water'.
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/future-of-highered/research/looking-back-and-looking-forward (Tyler’s Story)
For example: A lot of data is gleaned on students: grades, test scores, career and outside interests, even if they are early risers or messy or neat. And yet, when their roommate or hall group decides the weekend includes a ski trip or shopping or amusement park and our student has a hard time begging off without saying – Hey, I don’t have the money. It adds to the pressure of feeling they don’t really belong; that somebody got it wrong when they let them in or offered that scholarship. It is also comforting to hear an accent regionally close to their own once in a while without calling home.
What if….collecting all the ‘data’ on a student included a methodology for helping students identify ‘like me’ peer groups faster. It could also include mentoring connections with upper classmen, alumni, faculty or staff. This could be done by simple match or a guided conversation during the orientation or pre-arrival days and weeks or in the first few days after arrival of residential students. For commuting or online students the challenge to facilitate this conversation and interaction is harder but just as critical, sometimes more!
Yes, college (and all higher education opportunities) is a time to discover and interact with people of a vast cross section of culture, economic levels, backgrounds and points of view. This should be strongly encouraged and fostered. And, the confidence to open the door to new experience is easier with a touchstone who ‘gets you’ and encourages you to keep trying. They can be data-driven and engineered.