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Family Outreach of First Generation College Students: Best Practices

Friday, October 18, 2019  
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Contributed by the 2015-2016 Diversity Network Task Force on First Generation College Students:
Leslie Callihan - The Ohio State University; Jessica Francis - Wake Forest University; Susan Lochner - University of Wisconsin, Madison; Michelle Tolan - IFSA Butler


First Generation College Students (FGCS) are a diverse group of students who often identify with many other student populations on campus. They come to campus with unique experiences from intersecting cultures, and often have different family dynamics and relationships. This can pose different challenges for FCGS students that non-FCGS students may not have experienced. For example, some FGCS may have family who are unfamiliar with the university processes and culture. FGCS are learning how to navigate college while also sharing this knowledge with their parents and families. According to a study published in 2012 from the Journal of College Student Retention, “first generation college students receive far less emotional, informational and financial support from their parents than continuing-generation students.” (New, J. 2014)

For FGCS with strong family ties and responsibilities, it is important that our offices provide well-defined, easily attainable resources to express the value of international experiences, as some may see this as an unnecessary use of their students’ time. There are steps we can take to become more accessible and approachable to families of FGCS and many institutions have exemplary best practices to share.


1. Outreach  

During marketing events, it is helpful to highlight the benefits that are academic and career-oriented more than those that are for personal development. Often families of FGCS respond more positively to tangible advantages as opposed to thinking of education abroad as a luxury. Point out how exactly the international experience will help the student in meeting academic requirements, their career search and future. For business students, this may be emphasizing our global economy and the abundance of international offices that are located domestically. For engineering students, we can connect education abroad to the technical skills students will gain during a program. Students in the Arts and Humanities may have language requirements that can be fulfilled in a shorter period of time by going abroad.

Study abroad offices can also collaborate with units that are already interfacing with families of FGCS and discuss education abroad, and actively integrate the value of international experiences into these sessions. Families can be invited to attend study abroad expos where they can ask questions of advisors, coordinators, returned students, faculty leaders and program providers. Offices that offer resources for FGCS can also be present at the expo or fair to connect with students. Other events to tap into include parent and family weekend, and freshman orientation. Common stakeholders across campuses may include the Admissions Office, Commuter Services, the Career Center, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, TRiO, Disability Services, Military and Veteran Student Center, and Financial Aid.


2. Finances

College can be an overwhelming expense, and we know that the additional cost of studying abroad can add more shock to the bottom line. It is critical that we are transparent with the cost of studying abroad as well as being clear and specific about funding sources. Program websites and information packets should include a detailed outline of the program fee, noting what is included and what is an out-of-pocket expense. Costs to clarify can include airfare, housing, activities, meals, in-country transportation, international insurance, visas, passport fees and any other program related costs. It should be as detailed and itemized as possible. For example, when listing the cost of airfare, include what cities the price was quoted from (round-trip from Chicago-Sydney-Chicago). List the number of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that students will be responsible for on their own and give an idea of what typical meals can cost in those particular cities. Perhaps give a list of staple grocery items and average prices as well. If in-country transportation is not included in the program fee, note the different choices for public transportation passes and the cost accordingly. Itemize the costs for tickets to events, or entrances to museums if students are expected to pay for these program activities out-of-pocket. Also provide resources on discount traveling, or student discount sites for any free time activities students may decide to participate in.

Some education abroad professionals have the philosophy that students should be able and willing to research grants and scholarship resources on their own and that there is a certain independence that is required to study abroad. FGCS and their families often may not have experience with researching funding, or have a foundation for what resources are available. One way to overcome this challenge is to be explicit with grant, scholarship and funding opportunities. Funding workshops are effective in assisting students write successful personal statements. Funding workshops can also be valuable for families of FGCS by addressing a program budget and discussing the financial resources available to families and students for study abroad.


3. Health, Safety and Security

Families of FGCS may be coping with their first child leaving home to go to college, and now the student tells them they want to leave the country. It is very common that families will have concerns about safety and security. Considering approximately 70% of Americans do not have a passport, it is possible that many students’ families perceive the world through the cable news lens, mainstream media and social media sites which may contribute to hesitations or fear about safety.  It is critical to have discussions about safety and security protocols, provide resources, and share the sources of risk and safety information institutions depend on which often come from advanced resources of international intelligence. Being well-versed in emergency protocol, medical resources and insurance coverage can help to alleviate parental concerns. Our job is to explain reasonably the risk-reward ratio of participating in international programs.


4. Informational Resources

It is important to have resources available both online and in hard copy for parents and families regarding education abroad, finances, health, safety and other program details. Education abroad offices often focus on ensuring the information is available to students with the expectation that they will share it with their families. However, to encourage family involvement, the key is to address the families and parents directly in these resources. Many institutions are creating customized multimedia sources of information including handouts, guides and videos in multiple languages.


5. Practical Takeaways

· Be prepared to re-think current practices and approaches from a new perspective

· Multilingual hard-copy and online resources

· Easy-to-navigate website devoted to resources for parents and families of FCGS

· Orientation sessions available for families

· Handbook including emergency information


New, J. (2014, August 13). The Opposite of Helicopter Parents. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from