May 27, 2014
Attending College if Your Parents Didn’t
Education has historically been the most powerful way for children of the U.S. working class to brighten their futures. But as the cost of college rises, they must climb taller and taller mountains to attend.
The ideal for college – an ideal still pursued by students whose parents can afford it – is to attend full-time and focus on one thing: their studies. But five untraditional students who were profiled in a new documentary say they must juggle their multiple pressing priorities:
- Work, sometimes full-time, to support themselves or help support parents or siblings.
- Maintain a high grade point average after poor high school preparation.
- Inadequate financial aid packages and parents who are unable to help.
- Parents who may not understand the college financial aid process.
- Complexities of transferring credits from a community college to a four-year institution.
Like many untraditional students, Sharon Flores is the first generation in her family to attend college. This top high school student and daughter of a single mother explains her struggle to attend King’s College in Pennsylvania in the documentary, “Redefining Access for the 21st Century Student,” which was produced by the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington.
Since financial aid covered only half of her college costs, Flores works at Sears to relieve the financial strain on her mother. Her mother also moved in with a friend to cut expenses and free her daughter to live on campus.
Young adults whose parents did not go to college are half as likely to attend as the children of parents who did attend, according to “Redefining Access.”
“I don’t really think that universities understand the balancing act [untraditional students] are trying to manage and how really hard that can be and how stressful and overwhelming that can be mentally and financially,” said Andrea Fitch, who was also profiled in the documentary. She quit a job with health insurance to attend college full-time. Her family went on food stamps, because her husband worked but couldn’t afford to support their two children by himself.
To watch the documentary, click here to apply for access.