College Access: A Student’s Voice

Several weeks ago The Chronicle of Higher Education published a student essay deserving of some attention by those who profess to be interested in student access issues.  The essay describes a first-generation college student’s feelings of social exclusion and rang so true that it was painful to read.

Some quotations worthy of reflection:

  • “I’ve never traveled out of the mid-Atlantic region, the latest issues of The New Yorker and Harper’s have never appeared on my family’s coffee table, and before arriving on the campus, I thought every working person got paid by the hour.”  College access professionals need to understand that, even under the best of circumstances, students from poor socio-economic backgrounds have not had the quality or quantity of enrichment opportunities of their upper and middle class classmates.
  • “As a high-school senior trying to decide where to attend college, I felt besieged by information.”  College access professionals need to appreciate that there is ample, indeed overwhelming, information available to poor students about college selection, admissions, and financial aid.  What is missing is quality counseling to help poor students put all of this information into context.  Such counseling can be provided effectively only by a professional counselor or peer, not through a website or brochure.
  • “I don’t want to alienate myself by letting my college friends know that I’m not well traveled and don’t understand their references, so I act as if I were in the know, hoping they won’t suspect that I’m from a different class.  This ‘cultural passing’ gives me a feeling of accomplishment but also leaves me dejected, knowing that I am still an outsider.”  College access professionals need to understand that many such students try hard to hide their otherness and are reluctant to seek support.
  • “There were undoubtedly other working-class students on the campus, who could have provided me with the support I needed, but I couldn’t find them.”  Most campuses have African-American groups, religious groups, LGBT groups, etc., but no groups for poor students.  Poor students could benefit from a support group.

~ by Dennis Taylor on 10 November 2009.

One Response to “College Access: A Student’s Voice”

  1. This is an incredibly relevant topic! Even once under privileged students get to college, they can really struggle with the “culture shock.”
    Thanks for drawing out the issue!

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