TU student Meagan Henningsen started Gen1TU, a club for first generation college students, when she noticed a lack of resources.
The road to success and a four-year degree can be a challenge for anyone, but it becomes exponentially more difficult when no one has paved the road for you. According to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Education, low-income first-generation college students are far less likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in six years than their continuing generation peers. TU freshman Meagan Henningsen wants to change that, and she’s taking action in the form of a new organization on campus.
The club, which has been dubbed Gen1TU, came to life when Henningsen noticed that nothing like it existed on campus. “I know that a lot of other colleges have first-generation programs, and I realized that TU didn’t have one when I was talking with a professor. She gave me the idea to start up this club to connect with students who come from a similar background.”
Henningsen summed up Gen1TU’s primary mission statement as “to alleviate that stress, to make friends who are experiencing that same thing and to connect with people who support you.” She emphasized the importance of the last point, saying that “knowing you have people rooting for you is kind of what that’s all about.“
The goal of Gen1TU is to soften the initial blows that first-generation students face when beginning school. Right now, Gen1TU’s meetings mostly consist of the people gathering and “sharing our experiences,” Henningsen said. “We talk about some things that are unique for being in a college setting as a first-generation college student, and we talk about ways that we can alleviate the stress.”
Henningsen has hopes for the club to catch on with higher administration but is for now intent on keeping the focus on the best way to get help for struggling students. She explained that one of the troubles faced by many is the access to coherent resources in an easily accessible place. “I’m hoping to pitch this to Dr. Clancy to establish something to how first-generation students can get access to these resources. That’s the overarching goal right now.”
According to statistics from The Chronicle of Higher Education, first-generation students are “more likely to finish their bachelor’s degrees in four years at a smaller private college than they are in six years at a public non-doctoral university.” This success rate was attributed to private schools because of “their small class sizes, involved faculty members and extracurricular activities.” This puts the University of Tulsa in an advantageous position to be able to help the large percentage of first-generation college students navigate both academics and financial aid.
A primary issue that Gen1TU will try to solve is obscurely-explained financial aid. About 37 percent of first-generation college students end up taking out a loan; Henningsen recounted her own experience with enrollment and how she struggled with navigating the stress of loans. “A big obstacle for me was understanding how financial aid worked. It was confusing and I didn’t have that support system to explain it to me or to help me through it.”
One of the first hurdles faced by first-generation students is getting enrolled in the first place. A study from the 2017 Stats in Brief report from the U.S. Department of Education found that people whose parents held postsecondary degrees were more than twice as likely to obtain a bachelors after high school compared to their first-generation peers.
Henningsen hopes that Gen1TU can address this issue, explaining that one of the events the club has planned is intended to encourage high schoolers to go on to higher education. “We’re planning a FAFSA night. We’re hoping to go to East Central High School and help them fill out their FAFSAs. A big reason a lot of kids don’t go to college would be financial aid, so something like this helps alleviate some of the stress of that.”
Another struggle, and what initially led Henningsen on to starting Gen1TU, is the general misinformation shared by professors and peers alike who don’t understand the financial differences experience by a lot of first-generation students. “They just assume that you should be able to afford most things when you can’t. You could be having to work full time while going to school full time,” Henningsen explained.
Henningsen recalled one particular instance when a professor said, “I had a professor who was talking about Medicaid in class who said, ‘Oh, you don’t know anything about Medicaid since you all go here, so you’re rich.’” This was a shock to Henningsen, since she had grown up on Medicaid. “My mom was a single mom raising kids, and we had to be on Medicaid in order to be able to go to the doctor.”
While the club is still in its early stages of development, it has been well-received by both professors and students alike. Henningsen hopes to grow the club into a comprehensive resource for low-income and first-generation students. She’s hoping to recruit more members for Gen1TU. According to the National Center for Education, 30 percent of all incoming freshmen are first-generation college students, leaving Henningsen with a wide pool from which to draw.
For more info about meeting times and what Gen1TU is about, contact Meagan Henningsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.