Category: Access Via Advocacy

Increasing College Access For First Generation Students

Increasing College Access For First-Generation Students

Submitted by Subrina Hough, Crosby Scholars Outreach Specialist

The Role of FAFSA

When it comes down to it, college isn’t exactly the most accessible route for those looking to pursue their education at the collegiate level. College is expensive, it’s competitive, and there isn’t exactly a clear-cut path for every single population to follow. For instance, first-generation college students don’t exactly have it easy when it comes to applying for college. 

In fact, almost 1/3rd of undergraduate students in the US are considered first-generation college students. And roughly half of those students go on to attend community college, as opposed to a four-year school, according to a 2018 study from the Department of Education. 

Why is this important? Because it all boils down to finances. Most first-generation college students simply don’t have the financial resources to attend a four-year university, even when they make up a significant portion of the entire undergraduate community in the US. Sure, there are scholarships out there for first-generation college students, but they’re often extremely competitive, and they’re not exactly common knowledge. 

Today, students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and those who are the first in their family to attend college experience disproportionately lower rates of postsecondary success. For example, a low-income student is 29% less likely to enroll in postsecondary education directly after high school than a high-income student. Ultimately, only 35% of low-income high school students obtain a postsecondary credential by age 26, compared to 72% of high-income students.

The Role of FAFSA

FAFSA, on the other hand, is common knowledge – and yet, first-generation college students are still known to face tremendous financial hurdles. For instance, Donald Earl Collins, from the University of Maryland spoke about the various obstacles that exist for first-generation college students, and he said, “in addition to financial challenges, first-generation students are navigating a system that is new to them.” This is absolutely critical – because parents of children who have gone on to attend a four-year university know just how difficult it is to fill out a FAFSA form.

Consider a first-generation college student: not only are they forced to fill out application after application, write essay after essay, and find ways to pay for their application fees, but they’re also expected to understand the Free Application for Federal Student Aid process, which isn’t exactly the most self-explanatory experience. 

Access Via Advocacy 

Who is answering the call?  NCAN’s (National College Attainment Network) mission is to build, strengthen, and empower communities and stakeholders to close equity gaps in postsecondary attainment for all students.  NCAN has taken to task all of us and shined the light on various ways to access a college education via advocacy.  In 2020, Crosby Scholars has embarked on a new journey to educate and inform our students and community on the importance of ACCESS VIA ADVOCACY. Stay tuned!



Crosby Scholar Advocates on Capitol Hill

Class of 2016 Crosby Scholars alum and North Rowan High graduate, Jaylen Brown, traveled to Capitol Hill earlier this month to strategically advocate for policies that promote postsecondary access and success. On March 2-3, Brown was joined in Washington, DC by 50 college students from around the country for NCAN Hill Day, which comprised of advocacy training and skill-building sessions to prepare for meetings with members of Congress and congressional staff. Brown was also joined by Crosby Scholars High School Outreach Specialist, Subrina Hough.

The National College Attainment Network (NCAN), through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, hosted the 2-day event and offered travel support for this project in order to increase student voices in the political process and to encourage Congress to drive equitable postsecondary access and completion. Crosby Scholars was selected as a recipient for the 2020 NCAN Member Advocacy Grant to participate in this event and other opportunities related to higher education advocacy work.

Equity gaps remain in postsecondary education, with students from low-income backgrounds only half as likely to complete a postsecondary certificate or degree by age 26 as high-income students. Moreover, students of color and those who are the first in their family to attend college experience disproportionately lower rates of postsecondary success.

NCAN promotes that closing the attainment gap can have tremendous potential payoff because Americans from the lowest-income backgrounds who obtain a college degree are five times more likely than their peers to rise from poverty. During the Hill Day Training, students and NCAN members were informed on a few key policy priorities: 1) making college affordable for students from low-income backgrounds and 2) simplifying the financial aid processes to increase access to Federal Student Aid.

On Day 2 of the training, Brown and Hough paid visits to the offices of Congressman Ted Budd (District 13) and Senator Thom Tillis. While there, they encouraged our representatives and their staff to build on the foundation of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) improvements contained in the FUTURE Act by eliminating unnecessary questions, fast-tracking eligibility for full Pell Grants to students who receive means-tested benefits and decreasing audit-like verification processes. Learn more at They also advocated for a 9% increase in the Pell Grant annually for the next 10 years to eventually help cover 50% of the total cost of college attendance by 2030.

Slated to graduate with his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science this May from Winston-Salem State University, Brown knows first-hand how federal policy initiatives have helped and also sometimes hindered students from completing post-secondary education. Brown shared that one of his fellow classmates who was a great student and on track to graduate was selected for FAFSA verification, an audit-like process that roughly half of eligible Pell Grant recipients are selected to undergo. His friend found the verification process to be too difficult to navigate and ultimately it prevented them from returning to school. An estimated 28% of Pell-eligible applicants abandon the aid process after being flagged for verification.

With the right pre-college advising, financial aid, and mentoring, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds succeed at higher rates, whether through a two-year or four-year degree or high-quality certificate program. To fully close the attainment gap between students from low-income families and their upper-income peers, NCAN promotes equitable, practical solutions to make higher education more affordable. NCAN stresses that Congress can remove barriers to post-secondary access and completion by ensuring even more students benefit from federal student aid.

Upon returning from DC, Brown had this to say about his experience, “Being on the Hill was definitely a milestone to check off my bucket list that I didn’t know was there. I have no desire for a career in politics but I do enjoy voicing my concerns and doing what I can to make an impact. I would urge every individual that cares about seeing things move forward to go and to make your voice heard!”