When a student is the first in their family to attend college, the pressures not to disappoint are immense, and the stresses pulling them apart are many. While first-generation college students make up between 10% and 20% of most business schools across the country, at Drexel University’s Lebow College of Business, 63% of incoming freshmen in 2017 self-identified as first-generation college students. “We have created an infrastructure where we embrace the paradigm shift from ‘college ready student’ to a ‘student ready institution,’” says Brian Ellis, associate dean for Academic Programs at Lebow.
Alongside Lebow College at the top of the Poets&Quants list of schools with the most first-generation college students is Northern Illinois University with 56% and the University of California, Irvine, Merage School of Business with 40% of students blazing the educational path for their families.
As these students race to improve the financial access and social status of their families, they face many challenges that other students don’t encounter, such as low academic self-esteem, lack of college readiness, and difficulty assimilating, according to a 2015 report by the League for Innovation in the Community College. To help these students have a fair chance at success once they have been accepted into business school, there are many ways in which institutes provide support throughout their educations to guide them to graduation.
One of the ways in which the Lebow College is helping prepare first-generation students find support is through the BRIDGE program, which stands for Building Relationships In Diverse Group Experiences. The learning community was launched in 2012 and is aimed at minority and underrepresented students who need assistance with college readiness as they grow within the Drexel community. As part of the BRIDGE program, students are mentored throughout their time at Lebow to help them with schoolwork, encourage them to keep trying even when the going gets tough, and stay focused on the goal of receiving their degree. BRIDGE students are also given space and opportunities to engage one another and forge close friendships and engage with the community together through service. Additionally, the program provides plenty of networking, skillbuilding, and exposure events, where students visit companies and are put in contact with alumni with affinity. From Drexel’s Philadelphia-based campus, BRIDGE students have traveled to New York City, Oregon, and throughout California, visiting firms including eBay, Toyota, and PwC.
Over at the Paul Merage School of Business, the LIFEvest residential program reaches out to rising high school students during the summer, inviting them to join the weeklong financial literacy program. By spending time on campus, the program seeks to introduce the teens to college life, career fields, and social experiences that their peers may be able to afford through holidays camps, after-school programs, and their familial connections more easily. Under the guidance of students already attending the Merage School, the program is aimed at encouraging the teens to apply to the school and building confidence to chase their dreams.
“UCI has long served as an engine of economic mobility for all Californians, regardless of income or background. Four of the current UC Chancellors were first-generation students, including UCI’s Chancellor Howard Gillman,” Denise Patrick, assistant dean of Undergraduate Programs, tells us. “We are extremely proud that so many outstanding first-generation students have made the Merage School their first choice.”
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