When we asked members of our 2022-2023 Student Advisory Council who are first-generation college students to share what they’d want Illinois lawmakers and higher education professionals to know about their experience as first-generation students, they raised concerns about affordability and financial need, a need for greater support for mental well-being and intentionality around connecting with them. We’re always proud to lift up the voices of students and give them space to discuss what they need to be successful.

More Financial Support

College can be very overwhelming, especially trying to figure out how to pay for your education. Many first-generation college students come from low-income families and find it difficult to cover the cost of their education. Oftentimes students are told that there are no funds available to help them. This can be anxiety-inducing as a student has to either figure out how to pay for their tuition out of pocket or drop out of college. No student should ever have to face a decision like that, but unfortunately many do. Febe Frias, University of Illinois at Chicago

‘Connect with Us’
We are not just a statistic or a group of bodies within an institution. First and foremost we are people who are trying to better ourselves and our current situation. Being first-generation comes with its own responsibilities aside from academics. These responsibilities can look like having to work two jobs, taking care of younger siblings, being a caregiver, and having to financially contribute to your household. Our one common goal with those in positions of a higher power is to simply change our quality of life. I was taught from a young age by my immigrant parents that education is the key to success. I want lawmakers and higher ed faculty and staff to take a moment to reflect on their own struggles and obstacles they may have faced during their own journey through higher education. I am most likely certain that we may share some of those same obstacles. Wouldn’t you have wanted someone fighting in your corner then? – Sarahy Rodriguez, Moraine Valley Community College

Prioritize Class Check-ins
These check ins would consist of discussing the assignments and the difficulties we each face as a class. These check ins could be virtual or in person or over class discussions through Canvas. This would help the students who are falling behind. They could potentially receive help from their professors and peers. –Sabrina Hart, Columbia College Chicago

Provide More Support to Navigate Campus Services and Processes

As a first-generation college student, I have found it difficult to navigate different areas of the bureaucracy of college and loan services, especially with little to no family support. I think it is important for a student coming from low to middle-income backgrounds and first-generation students to have the support they need to succeed in college without having to agonize over such things as the FAFSA, loan payments, taking out student loans and applying for other forms of material or financial aid during their college years. I do not think I have any of the solutions to these problems, but something I would propose would be to do targeted Illinois high school workshops with Sophomore through Senior year students to help better prepare them for what is to come. Workshops on how to read financial documents, network, search and apply for different scholarships and apply for other forms of assistance while attending college. –Montreal Thomas, Blackburn College