Defining “First Generation”

It seems straight forward enough, a first generation college student is someone whose parents did not graduate from a four-year institution. But…

…the U.S., colleges, universities and companies are particular about the kinds of degrees they deem worthy enough of credit or employment. I’ve met with countless families with a similar story – immigrants to the U.S., mom went to college in another country, say nursing school, but mom is unemployable because U.S. hospitals don’t recognize her degree, so she’s faced with low paying jobs she’s technically overqualified for. When their children reach college those they will be the first to attend a U.S.-worthy-accredited institution. In essence, they are first generation college students. Right?

In my mind, one of the components of the first generation college experiences is having access to a world, a language if you will, that your family was previously excluded from for any number of reasons. This ability to gain access is hard fought and it’s this access that helps to shape a future workforce that can more accurately reflect changing demographics of the U.S.

For good reason, there are a number of programs that provide support (academic, monetary, social) for first generation college students. It’s a population not defined by race or even explicitly by class, but by a shared experience of being “the first”. Some programs do welcome students whose parents were educated in some foreign countries, though the politics of that are far too complicated to tackle right now.

What I will pose, however, is this – should a student whose parent was educated in the Philippines, but whose degree isn’t recognized in the U.S., be able to benefit from programs and monies specifically for first generation college students? Or, what if that parent was educated at Oxford? I realize neither student falls into the technical category of first generation, but can the experience of being first generation really be categorized so specifically to exclude students whose experience may be eerily similar to a student who exactly fits the criteria?

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