College Access for All Students
Low-income, First-generation and Minority Students Can Conquer College
Low-income and minority students may face challenges in the pursuit of a college education, from limited financial resources to inadequate academic preparation. Although high school graduation rates and college enrollment numbers for students in these groups have improved in recent years, a study by the U.S. Department of Education shows that the college completion rate for students of low socioeconomic status was just 14 percent within eight years of high school graduation.
Despite difficulties, some students are surmounting the obstacles they encounter. Here’s how they’re doing it.
An early start
Research shows that children from low-income homes are exposed to fewer words and books in the early years. Free access to books and other educational opportunities at libraries and community centers helps children without books at home build a firm foundation for learning.
Low-income and minority students can take advantage of college access programs as early as middle school. Rowan University offers the C.H.A.M.P./GEAR UP program to students in grades 6-12 in Camden, NJ. The program, and others like it, provides tutoring, educational activities, SAT preparation, college and university trips, college application and financial aid assistance and career exploration activities.
Winona Wigfall, director of pre-college programs at Rowan, advises, “It’s important to get students exposed to different careers as early as middle school so they can see what kinds of skills they need.”
According to Tara Kent, PhD, dean of the Keystone Honors Academy at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in Cheyney, PA, many Cheyney University students come from low-income and minority backgrounds. Their home lives may have included supportive families or no family ties at all. Some students have lived in group homes, been homeless or experienced trauma in their home environments. Kent says, “Regardless of background, there are some features that seem to play a role in a student’s success. Many of our students have had someone in their lives who encouraged them to apply themselves and who emphasized the importance of education: parents, teachers, neighbors, siblings, friends or even social workers.”
Parents can feel overwhelmed when they try to help with schoolwork, figure out how to prepare their kids for college and learn how to get money to send their kids to college. The school guidance counselor can direct parents to resources in the school and community that can help with college preparation.
Being accepted to college is an accomplishment, but it’s just the beginning. Students from low-income backgrounds often have to work jobs that take time away from studying. Many such students find themselves unprepared for college-level work and need to take remedial classes. First-generation college students often experience feelings of guilt about the opportunities available to them and worry about how their family may be struggling, according to a study published in the journal Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.
Last semester, a group of first-generation college students at the University of Delaware in Newark formed a group called We’re First to talk about their experiences, share what’s working for them and provide support to one another.
If a parent feels unsure how to help her child once he’s entered college, Jessica Cornwell, one of the We’re First advisors, says, “Help your student find resources on campus and motivate him to build relationships with other students, faculty and support staff. Even if parents haven’t gone to college, that doesn’t mean they can’t have a relationship with the college. If they have questions, they can call the dean of students.”
Cornwell continues, “There’s a lot of talk about what first-generation college students don’t have, but they bring a lot of assets to college. They’re optimistic because they’re taking risks, and they have more resilience and grit from overcoming more challenges to get there.”
See page 2 for success stories from local college students.
An Inspiring Student
“When I was younger I wasn’t interested in going to college,” says Deja Moore of Camden, NJ. Moore thought it would be easier to join the Navy. She had also worked since she was 14 and didn’t think she could keep a job and go to college.
“Nobody wants to be broke,” Moore notes. But her family was very supportive of education. Moore’s grandmother, a college graduate herself, encouraged her granddaughter to go to college. Moore’s parents didn’t have college degrees, and her mother was open and honest with her daughter about how hard it was to find jobs, particularly jobs she liked, without a degree. Moore says, “I think if my mom didn’t help me and if I thought she didn’t care, I would have thought, 'Why should I'?”
In high school, Moore participated in a dual enrollment program through which she took college classes at Rowan University’s Camden campus. She graduated third in her class and was accepted to Rider University in Lawrence Township, NJ.
Despite her high standing in high school, when she got to college, Moore says, “I didn’t feel prepared. I felt like other kids were a lot smarter than me.”
During her freshman year, Moore’s father passed away. The grief on top of the academic rigors of college nearly caused her to drop out.
“But I decided this was what I had to do,” she says. Moore continued with college, although she transferred to Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ, where she is now a sophomore studying health promotion and fitness management.
It’s true she isn’t able to work as much with the demands of her classes, but she still works during school breaks and receives financial aid.
Moore tutors middle and high school students in Rowan University’s GEAR UP program. She says, “I understand their struggles and how hard it is to get through school. I tell them, 'I had a hard time, but I’m still here.'”
An Inspiring Graduate
From the time Farod Ford was a young boy growing up first in Newark, NJ, and then Philadelphia, his mother helped him supplement his education. He says, “My mother made it a point while working sometimes two or three jobs to take my brother and me to the library and have us do book reports.” Ford explains how this helped him develop his vocabulary, learn to articulate his thoughts and broaden his world view.
“I knew I wanted to do something greater than I saw in my surroundings,” he says. Ford always loved numbers and read up on financial literacy. He knew he couldn’t afford college on his mother’s income, so he researched financial assistance in library books and online. He applied for and won a full scholarship to Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. Once he got to college, Ford wrote out a plan with his goals, which he revisited whenever he felt himself getting off track.
While at Cheyney, Ford did research on the kind of company he’d like to work for and identified the investment management group Vanguard as his top choice. He reached out to their human resources department and was placed in their internship program. Before Ford graduated, Vanguard offered him a job. He accepted the offer and has been working for the company since graduation
Susan Stopper is a frequent contributor to MetroKids.
See page 3 for scholarship opportunities.
College Scholarship Opportunities
This list includes some of the many local and national foundations, corporations and institutions of higher education that offer college scholarships. Visit their websites for eligibility and application details.
Catching the Dream Native American Scholarship Fund
Award amount: varies
Application deadline: April 30
For students who are at least one-quarter Native American and an enrolled member of a U.S. tribe who will attend college full-time for a BA or higher and have received financial aid from other sources.
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania’s Honors, Humphreys & Keystone Scholarships
Awards amount: up to full tuition
Application deadline: rolling
Eligibility depends on acceptance into the university’s Keystone Honors Academy. The Keystone Scholarship also requires PA residency.
ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Math and Science Scholarship
Award amount: $5,000
Application deadline: April 8
For African American or Hispanic high school seniors in the School District of Philadelphia who plan to pursue a degree in a math- or science-related field and have an unweighted GPA of 3.0 or above.
Hispanic Scholarship Fund
Award amount: $500-$5,000
Application deadline: March 30
For students who are at least one-quarter Hispanic or Latino with a minimum high school GPA of 3.0.
Ivayne D. F. Davis Memorial Scholarship
Award amount: varies
Application deadline: June 15
Scholarships in memory of Ivayne D. F. Davis to Delaware residents accepted into college or vocational school who have been in the state’s foster care program.
Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship Program
Award amount: up to $28,000 over four years
Application deadline: Feb. 15
Designed specifically for minority students with financial need. The foundation also provides mentoring services through its “42 Strategies for Success” program.
New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund
Award amount: $200-$2,500
Application deadline: varies
For students who are economically and educationally disadvantaged who want to further their education at one of 28 public and 13 private institutions across the state.
New Jersey Urban Scholars Program
Award amount: up to $950
Application deadline: varies
For students ranked in the top 10 percent of their class at any of NJ’s type A or B schools (urban and economically distressed areas) with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
UNCF General Scholarship
Award amount: up to $5,000
Application deadline: March 18
For eligible students enrolled in a UNCF member college or university with a minimum GPA of 2.5.
U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce
Award amount: $2,500-$5,000
Application deadline: March 13
Awarded to high school seniors of Asian Pacific Island heritage who are beginning a four-year program at a U.S. college or university.