The Impact of Family Support on the First-generation College Experience

Megan Elsen, LMSW; Julie Collins, Ed.D.; Kim Kushner; Susi Krulewich; Ruth Gonzalez; & Amaal Sheikhadan, University of Missouri–Kansas City / The Center / December 16, 2020

When talking with University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC) first-generation college students about the challenges they have faced during their college experience, themes of limited financial and academic support continued to surface. While our students voiced concerns about their families not having all of the knowledge, resources, or skills needed to support their college experience, many students felt that the most valuable way their family supported them was through the emotional support they provided.

Ruth Gonzalez, a Latina first-generation psychology student, described how her family support influenced her college experience:

“From a young age, my hard-working mother instilled in me the importance of getting a college education. While my mother was emotionally supportive of me pursuing a college education, the limited academic and financial support she could provide became evident early on. English is my mother’s second language which was an obstacle when we were filing for FAFSA and trying to understand my financial aid package.

My mother may have lacked academic and financial resources, but her ongoing emotional support is what I needed most. She is my biggest cheerleader! When I asked my mom to reflect on those first few years of college, she said, ‘Although it was very hard, I know it was worth it. Education has always been number one. I want you to be successful. I am here to support you in any way I can.’”

Many students felt that the most valuable way their family supported them was through the emotional support they provided.

Amaal Sheikhadan, a Somali first-generation student studying criminal justice and criminology, also described the impact of family support on her college experience:

“Obtaining a college degree is more of an expectation than an option for many Somali families. I found it discouraging that there were no resources translated to the Somali language when I was navigating the financial and academic components of colleges. Though my family didn’t have access to a lot of resources, they still found meaningful ways to support me.

My parents did not have the financial means to pay for my college, but they did small things like putting gas in my car or giving me lunch money. While these gestures may not seem like much, they made a world of a difference. The most valuable support my parents provided was emotional support. Having a hot meal prepared for me, congratulating me on a job well done, and picking me up when I was down. Families like mine may not have the resources to provide students with a lot. My parents’ emotional support will push me through to the finish line to receive my degree this spring.”

Ruth and Ammal’s stories represent so many of our students’ stories. UMKC plans to combat the limited financial and academic resources provided to first-generation families and supporters through newly developed programming beginning Spring 2021. First Gen Roo staff will partner with UMKC’s Assistant Director of New Student and Family Programs to implement “First in the Family” Seminars. These seminars, facilitated by students, staff, and faculty, will address topics such as Financial Aid, Academic Support, Campus Navigation, and Involvement.

For more information on the University of Missouri–Kansas City's approach, please visit their website here.