Obstacles for first-generation low-income (“FGLI") students

Obstacles for first-generation low-income (“FGLI") students

Socioeconomic status is a significant indicator for college retention and advancement to professional degrees. For first-generation-low-income (FGLI) students, many financial/non-financial obstacles exist.

Most intuitive are the financial obstacles, such as supporting family, lack of familial financial support, and lack of pre-college resources (tutoring/SAT prep). This is particularly true in the biomedical sciences due to lengthy training periods that feature lower pay and a lack of standard employee benefits, relative to their non-academic peers. Further, many FGLI students can’t volunteer in research labs to become competitive for graduate programs because they often work part-time jobs to “make-ends-meet”.

Non-financial obstacles also exist, such as imposter syndrome, survivor’s guilt, family achievement gap, loss of belonging at home while climbing socioeconomic ladder, and lack of knowledge of the academic rules/structures for success. The intersectionality of overlapping identities (gender, race, sexuality, and disability) further compounds this. These challenges often continue throughout the trainee’s career.

In this presentation, I will address these challenges and discuss ways in which the IRACDA host-institution, University of Pennsylvania, and IRACDA partner-institution, Rutgers University-Camden, are together addressing these obstacles at the high school and undergraduate-level to improve FGLI student sense of belonging, retention, and outcomes. This includes PENN-FIRST (FGLI office with programming for FGLI students and Faculty education on FGLI issues), Bridging-the-Gap (tuition-free education at Rutgers-Camden to FGLI students), and the pursuit of NIH funding mechanisms between the two universities that provides underrepresented undergraduates with research-stipends. These programs will set the stage for a more equitable future in the biomedical sciences.

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Nathan Fried, PhD

July 17, 2018
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  1. Nathan T. Fried, PhD PENN-PORT IRACDA Fellow, Assistant Professor at

    Rutgers Camden (Fall ’18) Obstacles for first-generation low-income (“Figly”) students and institutional strategies to improve their success and retention
  2. Nathan T. Fried, PhD PENN-PORT IRACDA Fellow, Assistant Professor at

    Rutgers Camden (Fall ’18)
  3. Nathan T. Fried, PhD PENN-PORT IRACDA Fellow, Assistant Professor at

    Rutgers Camden (Fall ’18) What is a first-generation and/or low-income student? < ~$60-65K/yr for family of four It’s complicated
  4. Neither parent earned a BS? One parent went to some

    college, but didn’t complete a degree. A student’s uncle went to college. What if your older brother went to college? What if it was an absentee parent who went to college? Depending on the definition, the population ranges between 22-73% (Toutkoushian, 2015) What is a first-generation student?
  5. Neither parent earned a BS? One parent went to some

    college, but didn’t complete a degree. A student’s uncle went to college. What if your older brother went to college? What if it was an absentee parent who went to college? Depending on the definition, the population ranges between 22-73% (Toutkoushian, 2015) What is a first-generation student?
  6. Neither parent earned a BS? One parent went to some

    college, but didn’t complete a degree. A student’s uncle went to college. What if your older brother went to college? What if it was an absentee parent who went to college? Depending on the definition, the population ranges between 22-73% (Toutkoushian, 2015) What is a first-generation student?
  7. RUC and UPenn recognize the spectrum of first- generation issues

    by de-emphasizing the definition. UPenn “The FGLI program also welcomes all students who identify as first-generation for any of the multitude of ways this identity can be defined contextually.” Rutgers “Any student who may self-identify as not having prior exposure to or knowledge of an experience like Rutgers and may find having resources to assist in the transition helpful. This could be because your parents attended college in a different educational system (in the USA or in another country), because the part of your family you have close contact with did not go to college, or many other reasons.”
  8. The underlying issue that FGLI students face is also complex

    Awareness Gap Achievement Gap Opportunity Gap Social Class Transition Underrepresented Minorities, people w/ disabilities, women, LGBTQ in STEM.
  9. The underlying issue that FGLI students face is also complex

    Imposter syndrome on campus: “I don’t belong here. It’s a fluke. Sure, I’m smart, but I’m not college-smart like they are and they’re gonna eventually find out.” Alienation at home: unsupportive or even obstructionist family and friends. Living in two worlds and not being accepted in either. “Oh look, it’s college.” “Your all fancy now.” Survivor's Guilt: negative feelings when one succeeds and escapes adverse conditions when close others have not. “Well, SOME of us weren’t lucky enough to go to college!” College readiness w/ little advice: Parents and family don’t have the knowledge to navigate college or college-level careers. “You can do whatever you set your mind to” and “Do what you love.” - Angel D’az Financial pressures: Food court closed over holiday? Need for part-time job. Sense of belonging: Professors are not from my background. Students are not from my background. Is this REALLY a place where I belong?
  10. The underlying issue that FGLI students face is also complex

    (STEM-specific) Volunteering in a lab: “Well, if you REALLY loved science, you would commit 20 hrs working for free every week.” Science Identity: I met my first PhD (in French) when I was in 9th grade. I couldn’t see myself in that world! The first heart-to-heart with a PhD in college, she described to me how she had been reading scientific journals since she was in middle school. “I’m not cut out for this! I just learned about Scientific American in 12th grade!” Fear & Anxiety communicating w/ faculty, staff, and peers: “These professors SCARE THE HELL out of me. How am I going to make a personal connection w/ them to advance in this field!?”
  11. And then you do the UNTHINKABLE, by going to grad

    school & a postdoc!? (PhD takes about 5-6 yrs. Postdoc takes another 5-7 yrs) Stipends are enough…for one mistake/problem: $29K in grad school, $50K in postdoc. It’s enough, but only for one unexpected problem (bad financial decision, health costs, etc) No dental insurance in many grad schools: after years of not having access to a dentist Lack of Financial Planning: No retirement/investments until well into your 30s. Imposter Syndrome: It NEVER goes away. Reimbursements take FOREVER: Students can’t fall back on family income. Is grad school financially-irresponsible?: My father is 74, mom is 64. They have no savings. Can I REALLY justify a 5-7 yr postdoc? Time is running out & it has NOTHING to do w/my passion for science. Further you go, attrition of those like you: Less & less you see people from your background. Out of the cultural-loop: Not knowing names of different famous schools…at every step, I’m one step behind.
  12. Institutional strategies to improve their success and retention in STEM

    Money is not enough New initiatives and groups are being created at Penn and Rutgers to build community and identity
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  16. Nathan T. Fried, PhD PENN-PORT IRACDA Fellow, Assistant Professor at

    Rutgers Camden (Fall ’18)
  17. Intersectionality of these issues in the context of other identities

    amplifies these problems.