Many Americans view education as an essential tool for success and social mobility in the United States, but access to higher education remains limited and generally based on familial socioeconomic status. While the cost of education stands as the first barrier for first-generation and low-income (FGLI) students, these populations experience unique challenges beyond financial considerations once they arrive at college that can negatively affect their social lives, academic outcomes, and mental health. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that while 60 percent of high income students graduate, only 16 percent of their low-income classmates earn their 4-year degree. Difference-education interventions hope to assist in closing this gap.

Difference-education interventions recognize the need for more than just financial resources to support marginalized populations. FGLI students also need psychological resources, including the belief that people who have backgrounds like theirs deserve to attend college and can thrive there (Oyserman & Destin, 2010; Stephens, Markus, & Fryberg, 2012). Research into difference-education indicates that helping students understand how their different backgrounds matter is a powerful insight that has the potential to not only increase students’ sense of belonging and ability to operate in diverse settings, but also equip them to better navigate their own college experiences (Stephens, Hamedani, & Destin, 2014).

FGLI Stories was created at the 3rd Annual AL1GN National Conference at the University of Virginia by conference organizers Joshua Farris and Michaela Moses. In the first programming event of the conference, seven speakers shared their personal narratives of growth and perseverance in higher education. Their stories and advice for inspired UVA organizers and AL1GN founders to make difference-education a permanent feature of the AL1GN Conference series with the goal of making narratives available online for FGLI students and allies seeking greater inclusion in higher education. With this goal in mind, they named the proposal: You Belong Here: Stories of FGLI Student Empowerment, an initiative of the AL1GN Conference series. We hope that students struggling will know that they are not alone and that they matter. We also hope that faculty, staff, administration and other allies will understand the need for greater support systems for FGLI students in higher education. If you are/were an FGLI student, we hope you’ll consider sharing your story with us and others on our site.

Research cited:

Destin, M., & Oyserman, D. (2009). From assets to school outcomes: How finances shape children’s perceived possibilities and intentions. Psychological Science, 20, 414–418.

Stephens, N. M., Markus, H. R., & Fryberg, S. A. (2012). Social class disparities in health and education: Reducing inequality by applying a sociocultural self model of behavior. Psychological Review, 119, 723–744.

Stephens, N. M., Hamedani, M. G, Destin, M. (2014). Closing the Social-Class Achievement Gap: A Difference-Education Intervention Improves First-Generation Students’ Academic Performance and All Students’ College Transition. Psychological Science, 1-11.