UC faculty mentors will help the growing ranks of first-generation students

August 23, 2017

UCLA's Royce Hall in Los Angeles.

The growing number of University of California students who are in the first generation of their families to attend a university will be able this fall to easily find role models and mentors close at hand: UC faculty who have the same background.

Their need for help could run deep. About 42 percent of UC undergraduates are first-generation students, compared to the 36 percent average at all four-year institutions nationwide. And among UC’s incoming freshmen, the numbers are even higher — 45 percent.

About 900 professors at UC’s 10 campuses have volunteered during the first weeks of school to wear shirts and pins declaring that they once were the first in their families to graduate from college and will make themselves available to provide advice and support throughout the year, according to an announcement Wednesday. It is part of a wider effort offering academic and financial aid counseling.

“Educating first-generation students is a big part of what this university is about,” UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement. “When faculty members identify themselves as mentors who have experienced many of the same circumstances and challenges, it creates an environment where students are more comfortable seeking guidance. Students are inspired to achieve.”

UC’s enrollment of first-generation students is strikingly large compared to the 26 percent average found in a survey of 30 other highly ranked public research universities, according to a UC study.

About 57 percent of first-generation students who started UC in 2012 graduated in four years and 81 percent of those who began in 2010 finished in six years; that is somewhat lower than the rates for other students, 69 percent of whom finished in four years and 87 percent in six, according to UC statistics.

Latinos and Asians comprise the largest shares of UC’s first-generation students, including many whose parents — and in some cases the students themselves — immigrated to the United States. UC officials add that the parents of many whites, African-Americans and other current UC undergraduates did not obtain a college degree.

Affirmative action based on race is banned in admissions at California public colleges and universities. However, one of the criteria in UC admissions decisions allows a student’s academic accomplishments to be viewed in light of life experiences and special circumstances, including low family income. About 60 percent of UC’s first-generation students receive federal Pell Grants, which generally are awarded if family incomes are no more than $50,000 a year; less than 20 percent of other UC students receive Pells.

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