Last week, on the NGPF Speaker Series, I had the pleasure of Dr. Nichole Huff to interview. She spoke about the role of trauma in dealing with money problems and advocated a trauma-based and empathetic approach to financial education.

This struck me because while many financial education programs teach about savings, borrowing, debt, and money management, trauma usually doesn’t show up. (If you missed the event, I highly recommend tuning in for the rebroadcast on the NGPF Podcast here.)

That conversation got me thinking about my own experiences as one of the first in my family to go to college and graduate. For first-generation students, especially those from low-income communities, attending college is a major achievement that opens the door to a host of other life-changing opportunities. Evidence shows that studying at university is associated with healthier lifestyles and higher average salaries.

However, we don’t talk enough about the psychological challenges faced by first-generation college students. This viral TikTok sums up some of those issues in a very fragile way.

The academic preparation of students is just one piece of the puzzle in a larger service in which teachers play a role. But it doesn’t end there – it can’t end there.

Students need to understand what they can expect from the university socially, financially and psychologically!

So, how can you address this in your classroom?

NGPF has some great activities to start with, including ROLEPLAY: Peer Pressure Meets College Finances and CREATE: A Monthly College Budget.

For a slightly less structured activity that promotes reflection and open dialogue, try sharing the viral TikTok with your students and use guiding questions to encourage discussion, such as:

For each of the questions below, share as many as you like.

1) Do you or someone you know have concerns like those shared in this TikTok? How so?

2) Which parts of the TikTok video resonated with you the most? What about the least? Why?

3) What advice could you give this TikTok creator to help them navigate the issues they’ve shared?

4) Why do you think this creator was willing to be so vulnerable and honest? Are these types of conversations common or uncommon in your close social relationships? (Family, friends, classmates, colleagues, mentors etc.)

Your students may find it helpful to read this post from Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, which highlights several challenges faced by first-generation students, including:

Psychological Challenges
a) Family conflicts and feelings of guilt. First-generation students often experience guilt for leaving their families and possibly their financial responsibilities at home. Many first-generation college students feel bad about having an opportunity that other family members haven’t, as well as guilt about feeling like they’re rejecting their past and community.

b) Too bad. First-generation students often feel ashamed, as if they are “impostors” on campus. Without long family traditions of going to college, this is common and understandable. However, this makes it harder for them to feel like they fit in with peers.

c) Confusion. First-generation students may be less knowledgeable about how to navigate the resources available to them, including health care options, work-study programs, internships, and counseling. Their peers who have relatives who have attended college often receive guidance from their parents or older siblings about these resources.

d) Anxiety. The college life experience is filled with excitement and enthusiasm, but it can also be accompanied by fears about academic achievement, social integration, and financial worries, such as loan repayment.

Academic Challenges
a) Arrive prepared. Some first-generation students may come from less rigorous high schools or have lower scores on standardized tests. This can lead to them having less faith in academics than their non-first-generation peers.

b) Difficulty navigating the academic system. The academic system can be overwhelming and complex. First-generation students often struggle with bureaucracy. They may also have trouble finding mentors. Mentors are particularly important as they serve to support students and help them navigate the system. First-generation students cannot rely on hearing about the school experience from their parents or other family members to help them overcome these barriers, as other students often do.

Financial worries
a) Lower family income. First-generation students may come from families that have less income than other students. As such, they may need larger loans and scholarships. In addition, they may have to take a job during their studies to meet their financial obligations, which can add to the stress and take time from their schoolwork. Evidence shows that financial burdens are the number one reason freshmen drop out of school.

Social Challenges
a) Greater social isolation. The feelings of insecurity and fear of acceptance can lead to isolation in first-generation students. Fewer available financial resources can limit their ability to participate in on-campus social events and remote opportunities such as spring break, adding to a sense of isolation.

b) Stigma and discrimination. Racial or ethnic minority groups make up more than a third of first-generation students. As such, they must overcome racial inequalities and discrimination. They can be the target of prejudice regarding both their minority status and their lower socioeconomic status. These experiences can lead to alienation, isolation, marginalization and loneliness, which can negatively impact their mental health and academic performance.

These discussions are great for first-generation and low-income students who can personally identify with the topic, while also helping students who don’t necessarily identify with these issues. Providing this context is especially helpful for students who do not have this experience, as it encourages them to be empathetic and try to understand.

You might even consider assigning an activity after the discussion, such as:

1) Write a thank you note to those who have helped you along the way (parents, family, friends, teachers, coaches, mentors etc.)

2) Write a letter to your future self about your feelings and reflections on these challenges that overlap our financial and mental health

3) Create your own TikTok in response to or a summary of your thoughts/feelings about the transition from high school to college or the job market

4) Read this NY Times article and generate your own list of questions

5) Interview 1-2 adults in your life about: “The most important things you would like to know before you turn 18”

If you choose to have this discussion with your students, please share a comment about the outcome in NGPF’s FinLit Fanatics community! We’d love to hear how your students responded.

Additional resources that may be of interest:

-Millennial and Gen Z Survey

-Teen Vogue: How Financial Stress Affects Young People’s Mental Health

-Support first-generation and low-income students beyond the college acceptance letter


This post More than money: supporting first-generation and low-income students was original published at “https://www.ngpf.org/blog/activities/more-than-money-supporting-first-gen-and-low-income-students/”

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