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First-generation College Students Face Hurdles, Stigmas

It’s been over half a century since the GI Bill and other initiatives gave millions of families a shot at college and helped spawn the middle class. Even so, students from a sizable number of American households still have parents who lack a college degree.

About 20 percent of first-time, full-time students enrolling in four-year institutions identify themselves as first-generation college students, a share largely unchanged for a decade and a half, according to a survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

It defined first-generation students as those whose parents never attended college, though others define it more loosely as students whose parents may have been in college but did not finish.

Either way, say experts, these students are trailblazers but also are more vulnerable to failure, partly because they lack confidence and sometimes feel like impostors — just a step ahead of being exposed.