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Sunday May 3rd, 2015 3:06PM

First-generation college students eager, hopeful

By The Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) In the weeks leading up to her first day of college, Lauren Serrano had the typical jitters. <br /> <br /> She was afraid of getting lost on campus, unsure about what her professors would expect from her, and nervous about taking on a full course load her first semester. <br /> <br /> All of those anxieties aside, what Serrano, 18, felt more than anything was pride. The daughter of Cuban-born parents, Serrano has become the first in her family to attend college, and with that accomplishment, has fulfilled her parents' greatest wish for their child. <br /> <br /> ``They always told me they wanted me to do better than they did, that if they had the opportunity to go to college they would have and that I shouldn't pass it up for anything,'' Serrano said. ``They want me to do something with my life and get farther than they did.'' <br /> <br /> As the fall semester recently commenced at Georgia Regents University, it brought more than 760 freshmen to campus, many of them first-generation college students. <br /> <br /> These students, widely defined as those whose parents did not receive a four-year degree, are attending college at higher rates than ever before, but require more support to complete a degree than traditional students. <br /> <br /> Today about 30 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions are first generation, but 89 percent of them will not complete a bachelor's degree within six years from graduating high school, according to I'm First, an initiative out of the nonprofit Center for Student Opportunity. <br /> <br /> Chelsea M. Jones, associate director for student programs at the Center and I'm First, said the low completion rate is often a result of students being unprepared leaving high school. Without an example in front of them, students can also struggle with the entire college experience - from registering for classes to time management. <br /> <br /> ``A lot of times first generation students feel alone in the process,'' Jones said. <br /> <br /> However, Jones said there are proven strategies and outreach programs colleges can implement to boost graduation and completion rates. <br /> <br /> She said summer bridge programs can help acclimate students to a college setting, and advisement programs on campus can track students' progress and help them feel supported. <br /> <br /> ``One major thing is making students feel welcome as soon as they get on campus,'' Jones said. ``A lot of times people celebrate first generation students for getting into college, and once they get to school it's kind of like they're on their own.'' <br /> <br /> Last year GRU implemented its 4 Years 4 U program that pushes all students to finish a degree in four years. In 2012, the year before GRU was formed, only 7 percent of students at the former Augusta State University graduated in four years while only 25 percent completed a bachelor's degree in six years. <br /> <br /> The 4 Years 4 U program pairs each student with an adviser who monitors progress and encourages students to take on full course loads every semester so they graduate on time. <br /> <br /> Benjamin Evans, 18, said as a freshman he is already preparing for graduation by taking five courses his first semester while also working two jobs. <br /> <br /> The first generation student said both of his parents pushed him to attend college even when Evans said he wanted to follow his father's footsteps and join the military. <br /> <br /> ``My dad wouldn't hear it,'' said Evans, a Harlem High School graduate. ``He made it pretty clear that if I'm going to join the military, I had to go to college first. He didn't go to college, and he wants that for me.'' <br /> <br /> Now Evans, a communications major, plans to follow his passion and pursue a career in theater performing in plays or on television. <br /> <br /> He said he's ready for the high-rigor of college and hopes it's all he has expected it to be. <br /> <br /> ``In college, from what I've heard, you're not only taught by professors but you ultimately teach yourself,'' he said. ``It's a more grown-up way of learning, and I'm ready for that.''
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