Humble and Hopeful: Welcoming first?generation poor and working?class students to college

K. Oldfield


For first-generation poor and working-class college students, surviving the social challenges of higher learning can be at least as demanding as achieving a high grade point average. To increase the odds that first-generation students with low-socioeconomic status backgrounds will persist and prosper in college, it is vital that their chosen schools offer them an adequate social support system throughout their stay. These students must be helped to understand that they are entering a foreign culture, a place that can be quite forbidding. The ultimate goal should be reforming the campus culture so that it better reflects the lives of all who go there, irrespective of their socioeconomic background. In this article, the author, as a first-generation working-class college student who became a faculty member, offers his insights and recommendations after 40 years in the academy. He discusses the lessons he wishes he had learned before going to college and concludes by proposing some reforms that all colleges should enact to better meet the unique needs of their first-generation poor and working-class students


First Generation College Students, Working Class, Academic Persistence, Foreign Culture, Economically Disadvantaged, Socioeconomic Background, Social Support Groups, College Faculty, Disproportionate Representation, Social Capital, Role of Education, Fear of Success, Educational Environment


Written by a professor who was himself a first-generation college student, outlines six cultural capital deficits that low-income and first-generation students are likely to have when entering college. These deficits range from knowledge of college and academic-specific terms – like non-medical doctors – to how students and professors are expected to interact. The author then goes on to give four suggestions for reforms to benefit first-generation students, namely celebrating and diversifying the student and professional body. The article ends in a call for research in how socioeconomic backgrounds of students and faculty may contribute to their college experience and how to better support first-generation, low-income students.

APA Citation

Oldfield, K. (2007). Humble and hopeful: Welcoming first?generation poor and working?class students to college. About Campus, 11(6), 2-12.

About the Study

Links to Article
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication About Campus
Type of Research Theoretical
Research Design Not applicable
Intervention/Areas of Study Adaptive learning, Administration, management, and leadership, including accreditation, financial models, and legal, Assessment, Coaching, including academic success coaching, Cognition or cognitive learning, Competency-based education or mastery-based, Constructivism, Course, program, or institutional culture, Course design, Course organization, Engagement, Faculty and professional development and/or training, Instructor-student interactions, Learning community, Personalized learning, Social presence, Student motivation, Student readiness, Student support, Student-student interactions, Technical support
Level of Analysis Student-level, Instructor-level, Institutional-level
Specific Populations Examined First generation, Low income or pell grant eligible, Minority status, Students with disabilities or impairments, Underrepresented - general
Peer-Reviewed No
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest
Specific Course or Program Characteristics
Outcome Variables of Interest Academic achievement or performance, including assessment scores and course grades, Degree attainment, Institutional effectiveness, Instructional effectiveness, Learning effectiveness, Persistence, Retention, Satisfaction
Student Sample Size 0-99
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