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NCMC To a Degree: First Generation Students

Author: Tocarra Williams, Student Support Services Assistant Director


November 22, 2022

First Gen Students Content Image 2022
Author: Tocarra Williams, Student Support Services Assistant Director

Being the first is an intimidating prospect. Being the first one to dare to try something new and different is an incredibly brave act, yet hundreds of new students here at North Central Missouri College do just that each academic year. Although definitions vary, a First-Generation College Student, or “First-Gen,” is commonly a college student whose parents or guardians never completed a 4-year degree. While first-gen students have great challenges to overcome, they also bring distinct strengths as they pursue higher education.

Often the first hurdle to overcome for the first-gen student is immense guilt. Pursuing higher education feels indulgent, especially when the first-gen student has parents or siblings who are dependent on them. Although their college degree is a smart investment that leads to higher earning power and job satisfaction later, first-gen students are making sacrifices by not working more and earning more now. Even when families of first-gen students are supportive of their student’s goals, it is still far too easy to feel like one is abandoning their family and culture when students begin to feel a sense of belonging at their college. The perception becomes that they are different at home and at school—so where do they belong?

While not all first-gen college students are the same, data frequently illustrates that they are more likely to have lower-incomes, work full or part-time jobs, and not have rigorous academic opportunities in high school. Nationwide, they tend to be less engaged in extracurricular activities, form fewer friendships with peers, and often fail to seek academic support.  When focusing on the barriers in front of first-gen students, earning a degree can seem like an insurmountable goal. At NCMC, we instead focus on the strengths of first-gen students to help them break down those barriers.

Recognizing that first-gen student is resilient and determined, NCMC sets them up for success through thoughtful investment. A significant way the institution achieves this is through three federal TRIO grant programs. For more than two decades, Upward Bound and Student Support Services have provided first-gen students in the NCMC community with the resources needed to be successful. Most recently, a Talent Search grant was added to NCMC’s program offerings. Beginning with students as young as middle school, staff cultivate a sense of belonging and college-attending culture. Through specialized advising for the first-gen student, tutoring, enrichment workshops, scholarships, financial counseling, and much more, first-gen students continually receive the message that they do belong in college.

Consequently, TRIO programs aid in retention and degree attainment among first-gen student populations.  We also find, through these programs, that first-gen students are optimistic, curious, and grateful. When afforded the opportunity, these incredible students are motivated by the possibilities that await them and show immense gratitude to those who help them realize their goals.

The lesson here is to never underestimate the first-gen student. Despite the terrifying prospect of being first, they overcome their fears and fill out that application, enter that classroom, and ultimately walk across that stage. When students choose NCMC, they are met with supportive TRIO programs, a student-led First-Gen Club, encouraging staff and faculty, and life-changing scholarship opportunities. A culture is being created at NCMC that attacks any negative stigma of the first-gen student experience and instead celebrates it. Nearly two decades ago, I dared to be first, and I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunities afforded to me and others like me at NCMC.