Education

Helping the First Generation Shine

Nonprofit College Visions gives Providence’s first-generation college students an extra boost

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Nick Figueroa, the new executive director of College Visions, grew up in the Bronx and attended high school and college in Rhode Island. He has a strong focus on social justice, and in his previous positions in admissions at City Year Providence and various colleges, he developed an interest in college access. “When you strengthen an individual, you strengthen your community,” he says. “To have an opportunity to lead an organization that can have that type of impact is very exciting to me.”

As a nonprofit organization founded in 2004, College Visions was created to “empower low-income and first-generation college-bound students to realize the promise of higher education by providing advising and resources to promote college enrollment, persistence and graduation.” Nationally, first-generation college students are significantly less likely to earn their degree than those whose parents went to college.

According to the First Generation Foundation, 89 percent of low-income first-generation college students leave college within six years without a degree, and more than 25 percent leave after their first year. This is more than four times the dropout rate of their higher-income second-generation peers.

Many colleges and universities recognize this problem, and are moving to address it. In 2016, Brown University announced the opening of the First-Generation and Low-Income Student Center. Dean of the College Maud Mandel explains, “First-generation students can face unique challenges when they arrive on college campuses, and [this] will become a central ingredient in our effort to support them in successfully navigating everything from academics to campus life.”

Elizabeth Aries, a professor at Amherst College, wrote a book based on interviews with students from various backgrounds, entitled Race and Class Matters at an Elite College. She found that “lower-income students at times felt like outsiders due to a lack of economic and cultural capital, were excluded from activities because they lacked funds, or had difficulties connecting to students whose experiences, attitudes, values and outlooks were very different than their own.”

But with higher education costs rising astronomically, is college still worth it? Figueroa believes it is, and most researchers agree with him. In 2014, the Economic Policy Institute found that college graduates earned 98 percent more per hour than those without a degree. Workers with a high school diploma have double the unemployment rate of those with a bachelor’s degree. Having a four-year degree can greatly increase one’s chances of success in life.

Even though most people agree that higher education is beneficial, high school students whose parents did not attend college are much less likely to enroll themselves. Betty, a 2017 graduate of Bentley University who worked with College Visions, explains, “Both of my parents did not attend college or understand the steps it takes to apply to college, so I knew they wouldn’t be able to help me as I began the application process.”

To meet the needs of Rhode Island’s students, College Visions has three main programs. The College Access program assists high school seniors as they navigate the college admission process. The College Success program provides personal advising, financial support and encouragement to college students to help them stay on track and earn their degrees. The CV Lab empowers educators and community organizations to provide effective college advising and increase college access for all students.

Figueroa also hopes to create a work-readiness component, developing soft skills for high school seniors and internship opportunities for students and incorporating a civic engagement piece. “This becomes a more holistic approach to how we produce college graduates, so they are ready to enter their chosen fields.”

In order to reach our full potential – as a community, as a city, as a state and as a nation – we must ensure that all of our students have access to a college education, as well as the support and skills necessary to earn their degrees. Rhode Island’s Promise Program, which covers two years of tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island, is a step in the right direction. So too is the work of College Visions, which relies on support from corporate, foundation and individual donations.

College Visions will be kicking off their annual campaign with an event at Hope Artiste Village on October 17. For more information, contact Moira Hinderer at 490-3996 or Moira@CollegeVisions.org.

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The Rhode Island Department of Education recognizes innovative educational practices through their Amazing Schools program and great teachers through their Golden Apple awards. Educators and citizens can share stories of how their schools are reimagining learning on Twitter by tagging @RIDeptEd and using the hashtag #Amazing. Parents and students can express their gratitude to outstanding teachers using the hashtag #ThankRIteachers, as well as by submitting an application for them to receive a Golden Apple Award. 

Brown University: Archaeology in Action
There are two opportunities for East Side residents to experience archaeology on Saturday, October 14. First, the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, located in Rhode Island Hall at 60 George Street, will open its doors to the public from 11am to 2pm. Faculty and students will be available to give tours and answer questions about the artifacts, both from current research in the Caribbean, Italy, Turkey and Rhode Island and from the Institute’s collections. At the same time, the public is invited to watch Brown students digging (and perhaps join in themselves) at an archaeological dig on the campus of Moses Brown School, at the corner of Hope Street and Lloyd Avenue.

East Side Independent Schools Host Open Houses
The autumn admissions season has begun, and several local independent schools will be hosting open houses on their campuses over the next six weeks. Please check the individual school websites for schedules and specific details. Both Moses Brown School and Wheeler School will have their Open Houses on Saturday, October 21; Lincoln School will host theirs on Sunday, November 5.