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First-Generation College Students Need Help to Dream Big

Author: Helios Education Foundation

November 21, 2014

The challenges of a postsecondary education can seem overwhelming to students who find themselves struggling financially. Add to financial hardship the pressure of curriculum and growing a professional network, and the entire scope of a postsecondary education can become a burden too great to bear. “In the beginning, I had moments where I felt overwhelmed” admitted Karol Yanina Haugan, a first-generation University of Central Florida student. The transition from counselor-structured K-12 coursework to a student-structured postsecondary environment can open many doors for students who seek to satisfy their educational curiosity; conversely, it can leave students who do not have a clear vision for their path of study to flounder. While these challenges are faced by numerous college freshmen, the challenge is compounded for first-generation students. 

The Hispanic Heritage Scholarship Fund of Metro Orlando (HHSFMO) identified this struggle among first-generation Hispanic youth nearly twenty years ago, and led by a passionate, volunteer board they took action. Since then, over 200 talented students have received scholarships to partially alleviate the financial burden of pursuing a college degree. Haugan, who is a HHSFMO scholarship recipient, explained “without the scholarship I would have missed a number of opportunities.” “Although I have worked during my college career, the scholarship helped me place greater focus on my academics and club activities which allowed me to grow my network.”

Not only does the Hispanic Heritage Scholarship Fund of Metro Orlando provide financial underwriting, members also provide mentorship, professional development and guidance to their scholarship recipients. Each scholarship recipient is encouraged to seek out community involvement, take on leadership positions and, eventually, give back to those who also find themselves in need. "Although we have maintained a good relationship with our students, it is important for us to note that with the help of Helios Education Foundation grant we will be able to develop a robust database that will help us build a stronger tie to our scholars. In turn we would be able to connect our sponsors, community and higher education partners and share mutually beneficial opportunities with all" shared Adriana Comellas-Macretti, Hispanic Heritage Scholarship Fund of Metro Orlando Board Chair.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that by the year 2020, 65 percent of all U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education. “It is plainly obvious that in order for Florida to be competitive within the nation and the world, it is imperative that students receive support services that allow them to focus on completing their postsecondary degree”, explained Comellas-Macretti. As the cost of postsecondary education rises, an investment into higher education becomes an ever-increasing burden for students and their families.

In order for students to be successful and maximize their investment of time and resources, it is imperative that students be supported by services that move beyond financial to include the practical skills of time management, working within a team and the development social and emotional skills crucial for success within any work environment. “On the list of challenges to student postsecondary success, finances are generally placed at the top. While access to financial support is critically important, it alone falls short of helping students ultimately reach graduation, particularly for first generation students.” shared Braulio Colón, Vice President and Program Director for Postsecondary Education with Helios Education Foundation.

Support systems that wrap the student holistically with financial support, academic support and professional growth opportunities hold the key to unlocking student success and economic prosperity for our community.

“I feel that I have gained as a person because of my interaction with the members of the Hispanic Heritage Scholarship Fund of Metro Orlando and other leaders whom I’ve met because of that organization. I want to be that person who serves as a model for others.” concluded Haugan.

Category: Postsecondary Success

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