posted November 21, 2011

Book Shares Insights for Helping First-Generation College Students

Dr. Teresa Heinz Housel

A new book co-edited by Dr. Teresa Heinz Housel of the Hope College communication faculty takes a student-centered perspective to aiding first-generation college students in their academics and campus life.

Heinz Housel, who is an associate professor of communication, and Dr. Vickie Lynn Harvey, who is a professor of communication studies at California State University-Stanislaus, are the editors of "Faculty and First-Generation College Students: Bridging the Classroom Gap Together," published earlier this fall in the "New Directions for Teaching and Learning" series of Jossey-Bass of San Francisco, Calif.

The two editors developed the book in recognition of the unique challenges that first-generation students (FGS) face in adapting to college, especially since they have often had fewer financial resources and different life experiences than many of their peers who have come from families with a college background.

"FGS often straddle different cultures between school and home, and many feel socially, ethnically, academically and emotionally marginalized on campus," the two editors note in the volume.  "Because of these disparities, FGS frequently encounter barriers to academic success and require additional campus support resources."

Heinz Housel and Harvey note that FGS represent a significant and increasing percentage of the nation's student population, particularly as college degrees become more important for employment.  They site, for example, a 2007 study by the University of California-Los Angeles's Higher Education Research Institute that found that nearly one in six freshmen at American four-year institutions are first-generation.

"As more FGS enroll in colleges and universities, academic personnel must be prepared to better understand, and teach, this growing demographic sector of undergraduate and graduate students," the two editors write.  "We hope that readers will use this book's ideas to better understand and teach this underserved but growing demographic of undergraduate and graduate students."

The book follows an earlier volume co-edited by Heinz Housel and Harvey focused on first-generation students, "The Invisibility Factor: Administrators and Faculty Reach Out to First-Generation College Students," published in 2010 by BrownWalker Press of Boca Raton, Fla.  Heinz Housel and Harvey, who met at a professional meeting, began pursuing the projects in part because of their own experiences as first-generation college students.  Heinz Housel was a first-generation student at Oberlin College which, like Hope, is a member of the Great Lakes Colleges Association.

Featuring chapters by a variety of scholars from around the country, the new book presents new research into the experiences of first-generation students, and across its chapters includes numerous comments from students themselves.

"We had to give an introduction speech where we talked about what made me who I am," one at a southwest university is quoted as recalling.  "The first two girls get up and give their speeches and one talks about how her parents made her take violin and study music as a kid and how it became her passion.  The next one shows pictures of some country in Europe I'd never heard of and how the travel made her see the 'possibilities' of life.  I thought, 'I can't do this.' I was gonna talk about how helping my dad fix cars at his shop taught me about hard work and taking care of my little brother and sister helped me grow up."

The book is divided into two sections.  The first explores the challenges faced by first-generation students who seek to attend graduate school, with chapters by a scholar who was an FGS student, focusing on first-generation Latina students and the impact of TRIO programs like Upward Bound.  The second focuses on undergraduate students, with chapters on Native American students, the tensions between home and college life, FGS students who failed, the impact of race and class in transitioning to campus culture, and a strategy for better reaching out to FGS students in the classroom.