NCCU Assists First-Generation Students from Enrollment to Graduation

Posted February 16, 2024, 11:22AM

When Shamia Stevens, a sophomore studying business administration, started at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), she described herself as a “lost puppy.” 

“With me being a first-generation college student, I had to balance work, paying for tuition, personal life, emotional life,” said Stevens. 

It was not a question of intelligence – she had good grades in her Washington, D.C., high school and had completed advanced placement courses – but paying tuition and trying to fit in everything was a challenge.  

“You never really find a balance,” Stevens said. “You find a schedule.” 

Of NCCU’s almost 8,000 students, 1,702 (28.49%) are first-generation college students, according to Dekendrick Murray, executive director for Student Access and Success (SAS) at NCCU. First-generation students are those that come from a household where they will be the first to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

“They tend to be trailblazers in their families, pioneers,” said Murray. 

First-generation college students also tend to have challenges that second-generation or legacy college students may not.  

“First-generation students are less likely to come into college with knowledge of who they should connect with to accomplish things,” Murray said. “They are learning the landscape of higher education as they go.” 

Alexis Staten, a junior in political science originally from New Jersey, agrees. 

“I was concerned about finances,” Staten said. “I was also not sure what to expect. I didn’t have experience from my parents to tell me what college would be.” 

Some first-generation college students sometimes lack confidence on whether they can complete a degree. 

Keshawn Cherry, a freshman who plans to major in psychology, understands that. His mother had finished an associate degree and his brother and sister attended trade school but did not earn degrees. Nevertheless, they all expected him to attend college. 

“I felt like I was going to be alone, nothing was going to go right, I was going to lose all my friends, I wasn’t going to be the smartest and my grade point average was going to go down,” Cherry said. 

Other qualities many first-generation students share include being from a lower income family, working while attending college, and/or attending college part-time due to financial challenges. 

SAS helps first-generation college students from choosing a college to planning for life after a bachelor’s degree. SAS starts with high school students, offering tutoring, academic advising, college visits and help with preparing for the SAT and ACT tests.  

Once enrolled, SAS helps NCCU students find scholarships, offers advice on how to allocate money, assists with career exploration, instructs in job hunting skills and filling out graduate school applications and so forth. 

“First-generation college students benefit from holistic support services,” Murray said. 

Martina Martin, Ed.D., who works for the Center for First-generation Student Success, agrees. 

“Communication is key with students and their families,” Martin said. “Here is how we help you transition. Also, offering communication during all four years of college.” 

Nationwide, about one in three college students is a first-generation college student, though that number is increasing. 

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