I recently read an article that was discussing the challenge of parental involvement amongst first-generation students in higher education. Thinking about this topic led me to a series of questions: How do we educate educators on how economic class impacts the success of first-generation students? How do we understand why parents of first-generation, under-resourced students tend to have differing levels of involvement? Are we using a middle class lens to interpret success and involvement?
If you haven’t read the book, Understanding and Engaging Under-Resourced College Students, it’s a great place to start. From an economic class perspective, it examines how individuals in poverty typically spend their time living in the “tyranny of the moment” (i.e. solving the problems of today with an inability to focus on the future). The book explores the skills and strengths that students from poverty bring to college. Supporting students and their parents involves creating opportunities to access a variety of resources, remedial education relevant for their lives, and creating relationships of mutual respect.
Though education is valued amongst those in poverty, it is often an abstract concept that is mired by the tyranny of the moment. On the contrary, the resources of the middle class allow them to place a greater focus on longer-term goals like education, which is considered critical for a successful career and making money.
What can the problems of poverty look like? Multiple jobs, transportation issues, providing for other children, proving care for the elderly, working irregular hours, appointments with agencies that support families with food, utilities, housing, physical/mental health, and safety, to name a few. The aforementioned items help to illustrate why parents of first-generation students are typically not as involved as middle class parents. Do they love their child less? Absolutely not. Are they supportive? Absolutely. It just isn’t the kind of support that we envision through our lens, our worldview.