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LLCC and UIS Attempt to Bridge the Gap for First-Generation Students

Students will be wearing robes and mortarboards while “Pomp and Circumstance” plays during the UIS commencement ceremony in May. Getting to make that walk across the graduation stage is a goal for college students. For first-generation college students—students whose parents did not complete a four-year college degree—that walk can seem unattainable.

There are 184,000 first-generation college students in Illinois. That’s roughly 25% of all Illinois college attendees. Despite making up a high percentage of college students, many of these students don’t end up graduating.

According to educationdata.org, first-generation students drop out at a rate over 90% higher than other students.

Closing the educational gap for first-generation students has been imperative for many institutions. This gap’s impact can affect students’ livelihoods for years to come. First-generation students need support because they lack familial knowledge of the college process.

“There are a lot of ways to support first-gen students through their education,” Tiffany Elliott, academic support program coordinator at Lincoln Land Community College, said.

Elliott wants to focus on building an embedded support program at LLCC. She wants the school to reach out to the students instead of students having to reach out to the school.

“Many students don’t seek out support on their own, and there are a lot of reasons for this, from busy schedules to stigmas about asking for help. What an embedded support program does is it integrates staff members from academic support services directly into classrooms,” Elliott said.

Community colleges have become a less expensive choice for students attempting to get their core classes out of the way before attending a four-year university. Elliott has been in the same situation as many LLCC students. She was a first-generation student.

A typical journey for many LLCC graduates leads them down Shepherd Road to UIS.

The schools strengthened their transfer admission agreement last summer. This agreement includes LLCC transfer graduates being admitted as juniors and admission application fees being waived. These agreements, along with increases in MAP grants, have lessened the monetary burden on first-generation students.

The educational gap between first-generation and non-first-generation students is not entirely income based. First-generation students of equal parental income to other students are still 16% less likely to graduate.

UIS has plenty of resources for students to use, but many aren’t aware of them. Similar to LLCC, UIS is focusing on reaching out to students to get them the help they need.

“I think that one of the things that is important for us as an institution to do is to make sure that we are making students aware of all of the resources that are available to them,” Nicole Meismer, math coordinator at the learning hub, said. “That means promotion on our end to help them be aware and utilize what we offer to help them be successful college students.”

Colleges are raising awareness, increasing funding, and reaching out to students who may not reach out themselves. Only time will tell whether these changes can decrease the learning gap for first-generation students.

If these changes do work, you’ll start seeing more parents in the crowd during commencement. They’ll be watching their kids stride across the stage, taking steps they never had the opportunity to take.

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