By Ben Pults
On Sept. 21, Hannah Salto, a College of St. Benedict 2016 graduate held a forum regarding first-generation students, who they are, what they need and how CSB/SJU can help them.
A key supporter of first-generation students has been CSB President Mary Hinton.
“I think one of the key commitments of higher education is to create opportunity for students. I firmly believe that my role is to extend those opportunities to as many young people as possible,” Hinton said via email. “Unfortunately, there is not always equal access to opportunity so intentionally creating equity, including for first generation college students, is vitally important and compels my work.”
As of this year, 27 percent of students are first-generation at CSB, compared to 24 percent at SJU. Most of these first-generation students are white, and most of these students come from Minnesota. CSB’s large first-generation student percentage has resulted in a position specifically suited to helping out first-generation scholars.
This position is where Salto comes into play. Formally called the “College Navigator,” and typically an aid to first-generation students, Salto helps make the transition from high school to college easier for first-generation students. “The aim of my position is to ensure that these already exceptional students succeed to the best of their ability at CSB/SJU and have an equitable educational
experience with a strong support system,” Salto said via email.
However, even with help from people like Salto, first-generation students face an immense number of challenges and difficulties. First-generation students are
extremely hesitant to attend college because they feel like they’re leaving and abandoning their family that they’ve helped out their entire life. They also waver when deciding to go to post-secondary education because they often don’t have an excess of money to spend on college, according to Salto at the forum.
According to data presented by Salto at the forum, there is about a $100,000 income gap between first-generation students and students whose parents both have bachelor’s degrees. As a result of this income difference, these first-generation students are more hesitant to take out student loans, and additionally, because no one in their family has been to college before and doesn’t know how the process works, it leaves the first-generation student even more fearful of attending college.
Other trends were noted at the forum among current first-generation students at CSB/SJU. First-generation students often take longer to decide what major they want to pursue, but once they find their preferred major, they stick with it.
Similarly, these students tend to gravitate towards majors with a higher starting salary than others because they want to provide for their family to the best of their ability according to Salto.
Salto places the burden of difficulties on inexperience.
“If I had to choose a common challenge that first-generation students face, I would say the lack of knowledge of what college is like and how to be a college
student,” Salto said via email.
Among all of these barriers, there are some positive factors. A number of first-generation students feel like they fit in immediately at CSB/SJU. 69 percent of first-generation students at SJU claimed to have fit in right away, with 46 percent of CSB first-generation students claiming the same.
First-generation students tend to provide experiences that other undergraduates might not bring to the CSB/SJU campuses, and appear to also treat college with more value than other students according to Salto.
“They have a passion for education that I don’t think other students have,” Salto said.
“By having people with different lived experiences on our campuses it increases greatly the diversity of thought, the depth of community and the ability to find solutions to problems,” Hinton said via email.
Salto wants first-generation students to approach her if they ever need assistance.
“I enjoy helping people find the strength, power, and skills within themselves… I am able to work with new students and support them as they discover who they are and what they love,” Salto said via email.