Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Local News

April 29, 2014

First-generation college students find motivation to tackle campus life

IUK, Ivy Tech students see education as key to fulfilling career, secure future

Mimi Ford’s son is set to graduate from Indiana University Kokomo this spring — which means now it’s her turn to get a college degree.

“As he got through his senior year [in college], I figured I’d got him to the finish line so now it was my turn,” Ford said.

Ford, 47, is a first-generation college student wrapping up her first year at Ivy Tech Community College, where she is working toward an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. She plans to transfer to IUK to complete a bachelor’s and eventually enroll in law school.

Being a first-generation college student, which means neither of the student’s parents have a college degree, comes with unique challenges. It can be more difficult to navigate the world of higher education without a parental guide who has experienced the classroom structure, financial aid applications and academic demands.

More first-generation students like Ford will have to take on the unknown world of higher education to improve Indiana’s educational attainment ranking. President Barack Obama recently renewed his push for higher educational attainment and set the goal of having America produce the largest percentage of college graduates by 2020. The country currently ranks 12th in the world for attainment of four-year degrees.

Indiana ranks 43rd in the nation, with 22.5 percent of the population 25 years old and older having earned a bachelor’s degree in 2009, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. Just over 8 percent of Hoosiers had earned an advanced degree, and 86.6 percent of the 25 and older population held at least a high school diploma.

Education was valued in Ford’s family growing up, she said, but circumstances got in the way of her family members reaching academic milestones. Her mother had enrolled in a nursing program but dropped out when she became pregnant with Ford’s older sister. Ford’s father died when she was 2 years old, and he had opted for a career in the military rather than a college education.

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