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Low-Income Students Struggling to Succeed in College

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The New York Times recently published an article that follows the stories of three low-income students who, having participated in a college-readiness program and succeeded in being admitted to excellent colleges, were not able to make it through to graduation. These students dealt with issues ranging from feelings of insecurity and not fitting in the environment to financial hardship. Some of these struggles were intertwined.

It has been my experience that the issues of insecurity and not fitting in are detrimental to low-income, first-generation, and minority students entering college. They do not understand that asking questions is a sign of strength, not weakness. This seems especially true when the students do not yet know the language, rules, players, and customs that are key to navigating college life successfully. These students are afraid of being seen as deficient, so they do not take advantage of tools and resources—such as advisers, tutors, career counselors, and even faculty—that are there to support them, paid for by their tuition dollars. This also means that they don’t have the conversations they need to have regarding financial considerations, often causing them to wait until things are dire. College preparation for these students needs to teach them that these resources are available, that there are students like them who have dealt with these same feelings, issues, and concerns, and that utilizing these resources can help them succeed in college.

What do you think?

Should students receive this orientation about college life? Should it begin before they start college or once they are there?

To what extent should we include families in this preparation?


Dr. Marcia Y. Cantarella is the author of I Can Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide. For more resources on how to succeed in college, visit the College Countdown Bookstore.

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Dr. Marcia Y. Cantarella has held positions at Hunter College, Princeton University, New York University, and Metropolitan College of New York during her distinguished career as a dean and vice president of student affairs. Through her expertise in delivering student services and strategies, she has enhanced the academic experiences of and outcomes for generations of students. She is now president of Cantarella Consulting in New York City where she works with colleges and organizations on issues of higher education pipelines, access, diversity, and student access.

Cantarella is the author of I Can Finish College, which you can find in the College Countdown bookstore.