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Assistance offered to first generation students

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by Rima Thompson
Staff Writer

Are you a first generation college student? Are you academically focused? Do you need financial assistance? Pay attention because the University of La Verne’s First Generation Student Success Program was designed for you.

Derek Vergara, former FGSSP director, started the program in 1996 after realizing that there was a large population of first generation college students nationally, and that about 35 percent of ULV students were first generation students.

The program is primarily designed to give students, who are the first in their family, to attend and graduate college, an environment of support and educational opportunities to enhance their learning experience and increase graduation rates.

“A lot of times when people’s parents don’t go to college, there is a lot of things they just don’t know,” said Keisha Bentley, FGSSP director. “And they don’t really have that support. It previously wasn’t institutionalized to have that type of support, and the graduation rates for first generation college students were so much lower than our regular students.”

While it is primarily a program for first generation students, the entire ULV community is eligible to join FGSSP. Recipients must be in good academic standing and enrolled full time to qualify for the program.

Once accepted, parents and students will attend a workshop and orientation. This is a chance for students to meet program organizers, reflect on their goals, participate in motivational and academic workshops and learn about a unique mentoring program.

The program also offers a scholarship to its participants. About 25 of its 55 members are scholarship recipients.

Intentionally the program received a grant from the James Irvine foundation, which paid for scholarships, and some supplies to get the program moving.

“Once that (James Irvine grant) expired, we (FGSSP) were able to get an endowment from The Packard Foundation, ” Bentley said.

After submitting an application, qualified students can get an award of $1,000 per year for two years. This award can be applied toward purchasing book, school supplies and housing expenses.

The program promotes an environment where

students and families are equally involved. Informative events offer an understanding of the advantages of higher education as well as reviewing academic requirements, financial deadlines and an insight into school polices.

“It’s not hard to get parents involved. A lot of times they are living vicariously through their kids,” Bentley said.

“This is something that most of them have wanted to do on their own, so they are excited to be a part of the process. They want to see their kids succeed,” Bentley continued.

Students who take advantage of the mentoring services receive help with academic subjects, career and personal goals, planning and directions that will lead to college success.

The latest statistics the program has are from 1999, and it shows a 10 percent higher graduation rate for involved first generation students.

“It doesn’t seem very big, but it does make a difference,” Bentley said.

Bentley hopes those involved in the program not only get a sense of community, but also know that there is someone looking out for them, and making sure that these students succeed in the long run.

“I want them to get a better gathering of resources that are available to them, and I want them to finish; not to just stay here, but to finish,” she said.

“When they (University officials) accept people into the University, they want them to graduate,” she said, and this goes for all students as well.

For more information on the program, visit www.ulv.edu/multicultural/fgssp.shtml or call extension 4397.

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