Christelle Louis’ single mother, a Haitian immigrant and certified nursing assistant at a nursing home, never went to college. But she always pushed her daughter to get the education she needed for a good job—maybe as a doctor or an engineer.
Louis would learn, however, that this payoff is tougher to achieve for students like her, who are the first in their families to go to college, than for her better-connected classmates.
Despite good grades in high school, Louis couldn’t afford to enroll at a campus outside her native New Jersey. So she went to lower-cost Rutgers University-Newark, commuting for her first two years and working at a McDonald’s and a liquor store after class and on the weekends to help pay for it.
Louis managed to earn her degree on time, despite the financial obstacles she faced, becoming part of the small share of first-generation students who do.
But after the attention fades and the caps and gowns are turned in, these students hit another, less widely known, stumbling block.