By Lorii Rabinowitz, Chief Executive Officer, Denver Scholarship Foundation
In November, each year, as a community, we celebrate the triumphs of our first-generation college students in concert with the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act. What’s been clear since that signing in 1965, and our Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF) founding in 2006, is that the partnerships created in support of EVERY college student, with enhanced support for first-generation students, make a significant difference by giving students the resources and tools to soar.
Closing the Gap
Statistics show that first-generation college students are less likely to graduate than their peers.
According to National Center for Education Statistics, first-generation students enroll in postsecondary education at lower rates than their continuing-generation peers do. Students whose parents do not have a bachelor’s degree make up more than 30 percent of college enrollment nationwide, but data shows only 48 percent will graduate in four years. This is markedly less than continuing-generation students, who have a four-year graduation rate of 67 percent.
The reason behind this gap is two-pronged, experts note. First-generation college students lack the cultural capital that continuing-generation college students are given by those who have gone to college before them. This cultural capital includes experiential and institutional knowledge regarding things such as class selection, study skills, utilizing professors’ office hours, graduation check-ins, social navigation, utilizing a syllabus, and more. Coupled with personal weights of being the first in their family to go to college, and other likely responsibilities such as maintaining a job or caring for family member, the pathway to completion becomes even murkier.
Together, our DSF Scholars and DSF team are determined to change this narrative.
Our Mission at Work
DSF was founded to address the wide recognition that many of our community’s students face multiple barriers to enrolling in postsecondary education and completing a certificate or degree.
Today, with appreciation for our ever-growing collaborative of partners and donors throughout our community, DSF serves 21 Denver Public Schools (DPS) high schools through 14 on-site Future Centers, and partners with 31 postsecondary institutions in Colorado, including technical colleges, community colleges, and universities. Our nationally recognized three-part approach to student success intertwines college access, promise-based scholarships, and college success, and it is working: 78 percent of our DSF Scholars are persisting or have graduated from college.
For students like DSF Alumnus Jose Miguel Jara-Garcia, who is a first-generation college student, the access to opportunity provided by DSF—and other organizations that provide scholarships and wraparound supports to students in Denver—made the difference for his college dreams.
Miguel said his pursuit of higher education has opened the door for deeper conversations about college in his family. “My father is my role model: He always worked two jobs; always worked hard. My mom is resourceful: She challenges lots of things. She loves thinking outside the box. Growing up, college wasn’t a conversation we had—not because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t know how to start the conversation.”
Miguel graduated from the University of Colorado Denver and was accepted into two different master’s programs at the University of Denver. He says, “DSF helped me develop the mentality of helping other students. Even my friends see me as a mentor: The knowledge and skills I gained from DSF, I pass to them. The same support that DSF gave me, I give them.” Miguel continues, “In my family, I’m helping the younger generations learn about college, and helping them become acquainted with a college campus. They look at me and say, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”
Stead Foundation Celebrates First-generation College Students
We know that Miguel’s story, and that of our additional 6,300+ DSF Scholars, wouldn’t be possible without the support of the generous gifts of our donor community.
In celebration of National First-Generation College Student Day, we are excited to announce a gift made possible by The Stead Foundation. Jerre Stead, executive chairman and chief executive officer of Clarivate, wife Mary Joy, and the whole Stead family generously supported DSF with a gift to underwrite the opportunity for 180 first-generation college students to go to college this year.
Jerre has had a long and very successful career as a public company chief executive officer. Clarivate is the tenth public company in which he has served as chief executive officer and/or chairman. This visionary gift connects deeply with the roots of the Stead family. Tech veteran Jerre Stead often reflects on his personal journey to and through college. He shares, “I deeply value college. I lived in a trailer and paid my way through college working 40 hours a week drafting documents for the local county courthouse. Through community investments and leadership from industry experts like the team at Denver Scholarship Foundation college degrees can be made possible.”
Opening up Doors of Opportunity
Miguel’s story is similar to many of the 1,800+ DSF Scholars we served in the 2017-’18 school year. At DSF, 90 percent of our students identified as students of color, 74 percent as first-generation, and all scholarship recipients are from a household that qualifies as low- to moderate-income.
First-generation college students who are predominantly non-white and from low- to moderate-income backgrounds face myriad financial, academic, and social barriers to entering and completing college as the first in their families to navigate college admissions, financial aid, and postsecondary coursework. Research has found significant differences in enrollment, degree attainment, and finances between students whose parents have a bachelor’s degree or higher and students whose parents have little or no college experience.
And while students with whom we work continue to thrive—alongside our donors and partners, like the Stead Foundation—we continue to strive to reach a day where EVERY student will have the opportunity to pursue their dream of receiving a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s degree.