“Normalizing the Unknown for First-Gen Students” by President Ladany (Inside Higher Ed)

Read the full op-ed on Inside Higher Ed’s website

Higher ed institutions must reassure first-generation students that it’s OK not to have all the answers, writes Nick Ladany, a first-gen student who became a university president.

By Nick Ladany
Published July 28, 2022

I was the first in my family to go to college.

The oldest child of an immigrant family, I worked since I was 11. I was 17 when I started at the University of Maryland, where I was a commuter student. I relied on a caring adviser and friends whose siblings and parents had been to college to help show me things like how to apply, how to register for classes and where The Dairy was to get ice cream in the afternoon.

I benefited from the knowledge of my friends, a good high school that prepared me well and having an extroverted personality. But like so many first-generation college students, I struggled because there were things I didn’t know. I was unaware of how scholarships and grants worked and what college fees meant other than I had to pay them. I bought all my textbooks brand-new, believing, as Rodney Dangerfield said, that it was better not to buy something that had already been read.

I am nearly finished paying off my student loans, which I wear as a badge of honor and without which I would not have been able to pay for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. They made a difference for me, but I am in a fortunate position to be able to pay for them—I often wonder how current generations of students manage post graduation.

Today, many institutions have preparatory courses and programs in place to support first-gen students, to help them enroll and show them where the dining halls are on campus. But first-gen students often are still at a disadvantage because there are facets of college life that they just aren’t aware of and that are critical to their success. …

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