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Students who grow up in households where parents or older family members attended college are likely to develop language and skills related to selecting, planning for, and attending post-secondary education. These skills are often accompanied by a cultural understanding that the students, too, are expected to pursue a college-going path and that the adults around them are available to support them in doing so.
Now consider the circumstances of young people whose family members did not pursue post-secondary education. These students may have test scores and grade point averages (GPAs) that are just as high as their peers’, but feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the unfamiliar obstacles that lie between them and college admission—application materials, fees, placement exams, financial aid forms, and interviews, to name a few. These students’ families may be very supportive of their interest in college, but the fact remains that the students do not possess what college readiness experts refer to as “cultural capital,” the specialized knowledge that surrounds the process of selecting, planning for, and attending post-secondary education.1
Fortunately, changing demographics and state and national conversations about college and career readiness have invigorated scholarly interest in determining how to help first-generation college attenders. These conversations focus on both the practicalities of helping these students gain admittance to post-secondary education and the pedagogical shifts necessary to help them succeed and persist once they make the transition.
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1Conley, D. (2010.) College and Career Ready: Helping All Students Succeed Beyond High School. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.