Opening the Door to Higher Ed for 1st-Generation Grads

Woman studying in the library

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May 22, 2013


Choosing to pursue higher education can be an intimidating prospect. There’s the cost, time commitment, lengthy application process, and question mark at the end about what realistic job prospects are out there. The process may be especially intimidating for students who are the first in their families to go to college. Lili High understands this all too well. High was a 2007–08 AAUW Community Action Grantee, and she has been working to encourage more traditionally underrepresented students to pursue higher education.

During her grant term, High targeted at-risk high school girls, many of whom “had a difficult time understanding the importance of school and an education. They didn’t seem to make the connection to school and their future. Low self-esteem prevented them from dreaming and really seeing what they could do.” To address these issues, with her grant High developed a career exploration program in Florida and brought in women from different industries to talk about math, science, school, and careers.

High says that, in her experience, girls often “are the first in their families to go to college. They don’t know where to begin or how to navigate the higher education system. Some students do not have the support system. Some families do not see the value in an education. They need the kids to work to help support the family.”

a headshot of Lili High

Lili High

Encouragingly, after High moved on from the program to another job, she kept up with some of the girls she had worked with. One of the girls was accepted to Florida State University. Another graduated from Florida State College, Jacksonville, with an associate degree. “We just planted the seed,” High said. “The girls’ determination, hard work, and knowing people believed in them was how they got there.”

Now that she works at a state college, High has seen a few notable systemic improvements to reach a wider potential student audience. She says that more colleges and universities are trying to make the system easier to navigate. Many high schools are now partnering with colleges and universities to make it easier for students to complete the application and admission process, in addition to spending more time with students to make sure they know what’s out there.

High has been motivated from a young age to be confident in pursuit of her dreams and help others do the same, thanks to the early influence of her mother. “Working with agencies and schools to find better ways to help our kids — to help them believe to value an education and to understand what an education can do for them … that keeps me going. I also have my mother in the back of my mind — she would want me to use my education and my skills to help others.”

Lili High’s Community Action Grant was sponsored by seven Florida endowments: the Lenore D. Feibel Research and Projects Grant, the AAUW Flagler County (FL) Branch Research and Projects Grant, the Florida 75th Anniversary Fund Research and Projects Grant, the Frances Pew Hayes Research and Projects Grant, the Marjorie G. Kinnan Research and Projects Grant, the Helen H. Landers Research and Projects Grant, and the AAUW Marco Island (FL) Branch Research and Projects Grant.

Lauren Byrnes By:   |   May 22, 2013

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