College Finance for First Generation Students
By: Elizabeth Rebollo The misconceptions and misinformation about saving money and the social and economic struggles first-gen students face are some of the many reasons why some end up dropping out. Bianca Camerena, the Chief of Staff of Peoples Gas gave me the opportunity to talk about her college experience as a first-gen student and how she learned determination to be successful in her career “I learned how to fail – literally a class and how to bounce back. I leaned on a community of friends that came from the same background – we were all inexperienced in college – we knew we had to succeed but were not aware of all the programs and help available; we all had to work to pay off school loans and living expenses and more importantly we just knew we had to finish school to get a career – which was a success.” First-generation students tend to graduate at lower rates than their peers with parents who earned a four-year college degree. According to National Center for Education Statistics data “Only around 65% of high school seniors complete a FAFSA each year, and first-generation and low-income students are less likely to complete an application.” In some instances, it would help if colleges made it easier for students to interpret the financial aid options available and make it easier to understand for those who are receiving the offers. Apart from making it more accessible, it would also be helpful to learn the misconceptions and misinformation about saving money. “Close to half of Gen Zers (48%) go to their parents for money advice.” according to a NerdWallet study. Many social struggles can have an influence on first-generation students' decisions. “Close to three-quarters of Gen Zers (72%) feel regret about their personal spending at least sometimes. More than half who ever feel regret about their spending have felt this about food-related spending, including dining out (54%), on-the-go food/beverage purchases (54%) and food delivery (52%).” Fewer seek out money advice from finance websites, with less than a third of Gen Zen (32%) using financial service companies and other financial websites, like blogs. At Peoples Gas, Camarena goes on to explain that many companies like hers offer college scholarships to children of current employees while some larger companies may offer scholarships to any students regardless of family employment. “The opportunities are vast and I would highly recommend first-gen students to lean on counselors, friends, and teachers; and make sure to use their resources including the internet!” she says.