On average, 15% of incoming college freshmen do not have a parent who attended college. At Ohio State, that number is nearly 23%.

Ohio State’s numbers are fantastic, because we know that many of these students come from families that haven’t traditionally considered college,” said Tally Hart, director of the Economic Access Initiative.

According to the Ohio State Web site, the creation of the Economic Access Initiative further marks the university’s ongoing commitment to ensuring all qualified students, regardless of income, can make the dream of college a reality.

“I knew I always wanted to go to college, but I also knew finances would be an issue,” said Amber Ballard, a first-generation student and senior in human ecology. “Luckily, in sixth grade I was nominated for the Young Scholars Program, so the door was opened for me. Without that, my chance at a college education would have been very slim.”

Unfortunately, it’s not all roses and lollypops.

Despite rising enrollment among first-generation students, graduation rates are still lacking on a national level. Ongoing studies by the Institute of Higher Education Policy show many first-generation and low-income students who do attend colleges and universities are less likely than counterparts to obtain their bachelor’s degree.

In 2005, the National Center for Educational Statistics reported that compared with students whose parents attended college, first-generation students consistently remained at a disadvantage after entering post-secondary education – needing remedial assistance, earning lower grades and completing fewer credit hours.

However, these students have one thing I, as a relative child of privilege (both parents have Masters degrees, both grandfathers attended prestigious Universities – Notre Dame and Carnegie Mellon) did not have: an appreciation for the opportunity to attend college. Due to my background, I grew up thinking everyone went to college. To me, it wasn’t a big deal. These kids have a better understanding of how privileged they are to be going to college, and consequently they often work much much harder at succeeding.

“There is a lot of pressure that comes with being a first-generation student,” Ballard said. “Sometimes you get caught up in the odds being against you, and your family can’t relate to all the things you’re dealing with.”

Ballard said the title of being the first in her family to graduate is enough to motivate those students to give it all they have.

“It’s important for me to graduate because I know I can’t let my family down,” she said. “I’m starting a new era (of college graduates), and that gives me motivation to succeed.”

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