Micah Mitchell- A First-Gen Blog
Blog 1 – An Introduction
Welcome to the First-In Line blog from Baylor University. My name is Micah Mitchell and I am a first-generation graduate student at Baylor University. I am pursuing a Master of Science in Higher Education and Student Affairs, and I am currently assisting with the Baylor First in Line (FIL) program.
In FIL my role is mainly to be a presence and a resource for our undergraduate FIL students, but my other task is maintaining this blog. The main purpose of this blog is to highlight Baylor’s first-generation students and their experiences. I intend to include relevant research in the blog posts when appropriate, but if any readers are expecting a highly scholarly approach, I recommend seeking out journal articles on the topic (I already have plenty of scholarly duties with course work). However, when I post each entry, I will be sure to include some articles or resources that I have found helpful in my research.
So, Who Are First-Generation College Students?
“First-generation students” has multiple definitions, but according to the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Center for First-Generation Student Success, institutions have used the federal definition that was developed for TRiO programs – “first-generation students come from families where their biological parents did not complete a four-year college degree” (2017).
When I first heard this definition, I had a few questions. My parents completed two-year technical degrees and my older brother obtained his bachelor’s degree before me. Am I still a first-generation student? Yes. The definition provided is about as straight forward as it seems, which is helpful. To note, the definition can vary from institution to institution, but it is the criteria that Baylor and this blog utilize.
The most common challenge that first-generation students face is the lack of critical cultural capital needed to navigate the higher education landscape. The idea of cultural capital suggests that “well-resourced individuals hold specific non-monetary currencies that can be passed down from generation to generation” (Smith, 2020)
In the higher education setting, students whose parents have attended college will have some knowledge on how to pursue a college education. Without this knowledge, the processes of college admission (searching, applying, financial aid, etc.) can be extremely daunting. And when students arrive at the institution, it is possible that there is no frame of reference on what to expect, which can make the transition from high school to college very difficult. To be clear, not all first-generation students have problems facing these challenges, but I believe that improving support for any of our students is a worthwhile endeavor.
First in Line
The First in Line program is Baylor’s ongoing effort to improve and support the experience of the 2,000+ first-generation students on campus. FIL is led by Michelle Gonzalez and is housed in the Paul L. Foster Success Center with other support initiatives.
First in Line serves to provide support in numerous ways, one of the most important being providing a community of first-generation students. First-generation students are in the minority at Baylor, and it is important to know that there are others that can relate to the experience they are having.
Additionally, the program provides support with scholarships, getting connected on campus, workshops on navigating different aspects of the college landscape, and more. Students are also encouraged to join the First in Line Student Society, which provides a place to voice first-generation concerns, plan events, and advocate for the first-generation student population.
In my short experience with the program, I have seen how it has helped many of the first-generation students that attend Baylor. However, I believe that more can and should be done at Baylor to continue to improve these efforts. With that being said, future posts that focus on students will include their opinions on what Baylor is doing great for first-generation students, and what they think Baylor can do better. I believe that since they are the one’s currently experiencing the Baylor atmosphere, they can provide some fantastic insight into how we can be better.
I am looking forward to sharing the stories of our students and the great efforts that Baylor puts forth to support this group of students! Here’s to improving what we do as higher education practitioners.
Higher Education and Student Affairs M.S.Ed. Program, 2022
This annotated bibliography covers a ten-year span of research on first-generation college students. For those of you looking to dive into the topic further, the bibliography is free to download, and is loaded with plenty of knowledge.
By Carmen Tym, Robin McMillon, Sandra Barone, & Jeff Webster
This article was published in 2004, but the information is relevant and provides a good overview of first-gen students. The authors review issues of access to higher education for first-generation students, followed by a look at demographic and enrollment characteristics of first-generation students across the nation (a bit dated, but helps to paint a picture). The remainder of the article highlights retention issues and then provides suggestion for improvement in supporting these students.
(2017) Defining first-generation. Center for First-generation Student Success. (n.d.). Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://firstgen.naspa.org/blog/defining-first-generation
Smith, R. (2020, August 21). 8 ways you can help first-generation students access cultural capital. Presence. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.presence.io/blog/8-ways-you-can-help-first-generation-students-access-cultural-capital/