Small change can make the difference for first-generation students

Small change can make the difference for first-generation students

A new project addresses the financial challenges faced by first-generation low-income students by providing access to small-dollar grants for items such as books, food, and clothing.

Yes, you read it correctly. The systemic lack of funds for the small purchases often determines whether a first-gen student stays in or drops out of college. Traditional financial aid packages may cover most student tuition and substantial amounts of room and board. But traditional financial aid packages traditionally do not address the financial realities of first-generation low-income students

Small amounts of money often inhibit first-generation low-income students from applying to college. To raise awareness on this issue, a group of first-generation low-income students have called for “no-cost applications” for students who cannot afford college application fees.

1VYG, a student-run organization that advocates for first-generation, low-income students, published a manifesto, “No Apologies.” Written by Viet Nguyen, president of the organization, “No Apologies” shares the financial challenges of too many first-generation low-income students when they apply to college.

Nguyen writes:

Between $11 per school to send test scores, $16 per school for the CSS profile, and $75 to just submit an application, there were moments where I wondered whether I had the financial ability to even apply. These numbers seem insignificant, but considering that the average high school senior applies to 10 schools, the costs add up. It was a thousand dollars that could have gone to food or rent.  — Viet Nguyen

What can we do to support first-generation low-income students thoughout the college experience — from application, to matriculation, to graduation — as they struggle to find the seeminly small amounts of money for expenses that most of us take for granted?

Individuals, non-profit organizations, and colleges themselves can establish “gap funds” to meet the needs of these students.  When students know where they can access the resources they need, they can make the connections needed to secure funds and save face.

Mentors are also important. Adults who wish to mentor first-generation low-income students can find a variety of social service organizations that will welcome any support and assistance. Mentors who know what a first-generation low-income student needs can provide discrete access to resources as part of developing an authentic relationship with a mentee.

Small amounts of money can make or break the college experience of a first-generation low-income student. It is time to address this important issue through our time, talent, and treasure.


Karen Collias

My name is Karen Collias and I founded Knowledge Without Borders™ to infuse creativity and innovation into the most salient educational issues affecting global contemporary society. I attribute my enthusiasm to cross the borders of traditional knowledge domains to the multi-disciplinary nature of my education and professional experience. The first in my family to go to college, I have a Ph.D. from Columbia University. My professional experience focuses on interdisciplinary research, teaching, and strategic thinking at a variety of institutions, including Princeton University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Department of State. I currently am crossing borders to write about creativity and innovation in education and philanthropy.



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