Create a College-Going Culture: Support First-Generation Student Success

George Davis has seen the triumphs and struggles of countless incoming freshmen. As associate director of admissions at Grand Valley State University, George oversees The Oliver Wilson Freshman Academy Program. The Freshman Academy Program goal is to increase retention and promote academic performance among its participants. 

“The stigma that first-generation students come from underperforming and limited-resourced-backgrounds is not every student’s story,” George explained, “Many parents had the blessing of starting careers that provided financial stability without attending a four-year institution. For these students, the process of applying for college is still foreign, but they are not necessarily disadvantaged.”

For people who’ve been exposed to college lingo most their lives, concepts like “credits” and the difference between “tuition” and “room & board” may seem obvious. However, for first-generation families, George points out, “Many words and acronyms in academia can be like another language to first-generation families. It is important that support systems continue to translate higher education terminology to help them understand.”

George recognizes the value in exposing first-generation students to a college-going culture early in life, with continued support throughout their education. “The real work starts with going to where students are. Our local high schools are in great need of local professionals to mentor and walk along side of students. Middle school and high school guidance counselors are consistently inundated and need the support of the community to expose their students to the possibilities beyond high school. Exposure is key.”

If you’re interested in taking steps to help first-generation students, George shared with us two opportunities right here in Kent County: 

The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan is currently seeking volunteer tutors to help students ages 14-21 with homework, creating cover letters & resumes and talking about college. Click here to learn more!

Kent County College Access Network believes everyone has a role in creating a college-going culture in Kent County. Click here to visit KCCAN and take the pledge to support a college-going culture.