At many of these mentioned institutions, school officials say providing access to higher education for first-generation students is key to opening doors down the road.
“Access to high-quality education is a cornerstone of opportunity and social mobility,” Maia Young, associate dean of undergraduate programs at The Paul Merage School of Business, says. “It’s a driver of individual and societal prosperity. Being a land-grant university, we have not only an opportunity but also a responsibility to give people the tools they need to lift themselves beyond their prior situation in life, and we take pride in doing so.”
At Drexel’s LeBow, officials echo a similar sentiment.
“A college education affords students the opportunity to ‘break the cycle’ and encourages continuous growth and development,” Brian Ellis, associate dean for Academic Programs Administration at Drexel’s LeBow College of Business, says. “Investment in the first-generation students in our local community and beyond is in keeping with Drexel’s mission to be an active participant in the City of Philadelphia.”
But making higher education accessible to all requires more than simply enrolling “X” number of first-generation students. At many of the schools that ranked highly for most first-generation students, a number of initiatives have been put in place to connect higher education to underserved communities.
At UCI’s Merage, the LIFEvest program offers low-income teens a skills ladder to college and financial security. Through LIFEvest, underprivileged high school students can spend a week of their summer at the UCI campus and learn what it takes to be the first in their families to attend college. The weeklong summer crash course teaches young teens how to budget, build, and track a stock portfolio and plan for college. They are also exposed to potential career tracks and how to make those dreams a reality through careful planning. The Merage School’s Center for Investment and Wealth Management, which runs the program, completely covers the $2,100 per person cost for students.
At Drexel’s LeBow, a similar summer program called Camp Business gives rising high school juniors and seniors an intensive introduction to the world of business. The program offers need-based scholarships to eligible students.
Additionally, the Liberty Scholars program at Drexel gives 50% of Philadelphia high school graduates a renewable scholarship that covers 100% of tuition and fees for their college education. Through the program, recipients are also paired with a dedicated faculty or staff mentor and live with other scholars during their freshman year.
Ramon Contreras, a first-generation student at LeBow, was one of many high school students who got a taste of Drexel through its summer business camp.
“At the camp I got well acquainted with the university and learned about its co-op system,” he says. “Afterwards, I was dead-set on Drexel. I also received a full tuition scholarship from the university which made it very affordable.”
A SUPPORT NETWORK
The Merage School at UCI has a number of networks that help first-generation students navigate their goals. For one, the school’s Business Administration Career Services offers students career exploration, skill-building workshops, resume reviews, interview preparation, one-on-one appointments, day-in-the-life learning experiences, networking skills sessions, and a team of student leaders at the senior level that serve as peer advisors.
Additionally, the Merage School has also added an online mentoring program, which has been designed with an emphasis on facilitating mentoring opportunities for first-generation students.
At Drexel, LeBow BRIDGE (Build Relationships in Diverse Group Experiences) is a program and learning community that was created in 2012 to support underrepresented students and foster a sense of belonging, engagement and empowerment. The response to these initiatives has been overwhelmingly positive. The BRIDGE program was recently featured in BizEd magazine, a bi-monthly magazine published by AACSB (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business).
“Students in these programs generally perform better academically than their counterparts and have assumed leadership roles throughout the college,” Ellis says.
Contreras, the LeBow student, says the strong support network that LeBow offers gives him the confidence that he can succeed in the business world.
“I am very comfortable with my possible career opportunities and I have learned a lot not only from my course work but also through the people I have met in the process,” he says.
‘ONE OF THE BEST DECISIONS OF MY LIFE’
For Muniz, being the first in his family to pursue higher education was an overwhelming journey.
“It was one of the most overwhelming experiences I had, especially making the decision to come to UCI,” he says. “I was worried if this school was the right fit for me. I was very hesitant on deciding whether or not if I should make this decision, since I did have the option of a quicker and rewarding career path by becoming a professional cyclist.”
But he says, with time and support, he’s learned to overcome that feeling.
“The pure motivation I have to pursue higher education is derived off of my family’s values of just reminding me to always put my best foot forward and pursue my best in anything I involve myself with,” he says.
Looking back at his decision to pursue a college education, Muniz says, he’s happy he made the right choice.
“I can proudly say that attending the Paul Merage School of Business at UCI has been one of the best decisions of my life,” he says. “This school is truly molding me into a leader for a digitally driven world.”
(SEE THE NEXT PAGE FOR A LIST OF ALL SCHOOLS REPORTING FIRST-GENERATION STUDENT DATA.)