In a recent snapshot of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges, the National Community College Benchmarking Survey indicated BC3 has more first-generation college students than any of our sister institutions. Thirty-eight percent of our students are the first members of thier families to attend a college or university – some eight points higher than the next community college in the state.
I, too, was a first-generation college student. My dad was a steel-worker, while my mother stayed at home to take care of the family (although later she owned and operated her own beauty shop when my dad became ill). Graduating from Lincoln High School in Ellwood City in 1985, I knew working in the steel mill wasn’t for me. Although my dad and other family members were proud of their military service, I didn’t think the military was a good fit either.
So I chose college – mostly because my friends headed off to further their education. I’m not particularly proud of such a rationale, but it is an honest assessment.
My ultimate school of choice was Pennsylvania State University – Beaver Campus. I loved the Penn State Nittany Lions football team and Center Township, where Penn State Beaver was located, was about 35 minutes from home.
My parents attended freshman orientation with me. My dad passed away eight years ago. To this day when I reflect on my dad, I think of this freshman orientation. He joked and laughed as the presenters talked about life as a college frosh. But all the while his eyes gleamed with pride. You could almost see it in his face – “My son is going to college!”
Because my parents didn’t go to college, I thought they had little real-life higher education experience to offer. But when I look back on what advice they did offer, they were spot-on with their suggestions.
“Get to know your advisor,” Dad said.
“Treat school like a job. Hit the books or go to class from 9-to-5; just like the read world,” Mom added.
Perhaps the best advantage of being a first-generation college student is that work ethic should be little problem. My guess is that many of your role models were just like mine: people who work a minimum of 10 hours a day sometimes seven days a week.
Just when I thought life was tough as a college student, I thought of my dad working double-shifts in the heart of summer at Babcock and Wilcox in Beaver Falls. Reality quickly set in and I quit feeling sorry for myself.
Fortunatley, at BC3, we recognize our audience. One of the key tenets for the creation of a new Student Success Center project is to increase retention rates with a “one-stop-shop” approach to student services. Because the literature tells us that a student’s first-experience sometimes dictates if he/she will last beyond a semester, the ease of services such as admissions, financial aid, registration, book purchases and tutoring are important to your success. Therefore, it is important we take these services seriously.
In turn, take your role as a student just as seriously. And don’t forget to listen to advice offered from dear Mom and Dad.