St. Francis College Celebrates Its First-Generation Students

Leah Schmerl


St. Francis College salutes the hundreds of its students who are among the first in their families to attend college, as SFC takes part in the National First-Generation College Celebration on November 8th.

"One of the principal characteristics of our students is that so many are first-gen, representing the best of our nation's promise of opportunity and advancement," said Rob Oliva, Director of Recruitment in SFC's Office of Admissions. A first-generation college graduate, Oliva earned a BA in Political Science and Government from SFC in 2004. "We join with colleges across the country in applauding not only our own students but the millions of students everywhere who are blazing new trails of educational achievement in their families."

Forty-six percent of St. Francis College's approximately 2,500 students are first generation*, a number that has remained consistent for at least six years.

"First-generation students consistently demonstrate determination and drive that contribute so much to the dynamic, engaged St. Francis College environment," said Ruben Gonzalez, SFC's Assistant Dean of Students, who is a first-generation college graduate himself. He earned a BS in Business, Management and Related Support Services from SFC in 2004. "When people ask what makes St. Francis College special, our first-gen students are among the first things I point to. Our work of lifting young people into bright futures is in lockstep with our Franciscan values. It's a privilege and unique responsibility to serve this group."

Based on its success in enrolling and graduating large proportions of economically disadvantaged students, U.S. News & World Report ranked SFC third in its category on its list of college's that are top performers for social mobility.

Ninety-six percent of SFC's students receive institutional aid from the College, making SFC one of the most affordable private colleges in New York City. Among the programs that support SFC's first-gen students:

  • Robert J. McGuire Scholarship Program which, along with related programs at the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, Syracuse University, and Cornell University, is a founding partner in the Kessler Scholars Consortium. The consortium implements research and student feedback to transform the first-generation experiences with both scholarship and wrap-around community support. Fred Wilpon, a New York-based business executive and minority owner of the New York Mets, and his wife Judy Kessler Wilpon are the visionaries behind this consortium. The couple launched the first program at the University of Michigan -- their alma mater -- followed by the McGuire Scholarship Program at SFC, which is continuing to expand. The Robert J. McGuire and Kessler Scholarship Programs are pilot programs that look to be nationwide collaborators and innovators of programming for first-gen college students.
  • Henry Family Veterans Scholarship provides funds for students from immigrant families who are first generation and/or veterans.
  • Project Access provides supplemental reading, writing and critical thinking training to select first-year SFC students, based on college placement exam scores, preparing them for long-term academic success.
  • Collegiate Science & Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) prepares students from under-represented populations for careers in medicine, health and other fields that require professional licenses. The program is funded by a grant from New York State.

AnnaMaria Leal '21 is one of SFC's first-generation students. Leal is in the BA/MA Psychology program and finds SFC particularly hospitable to students like her.

"There's not only a lot of other first-generation students here, but a lot of the faculty and staff are first generation too," said Leal, who hopes to eventually earn a Ph.D. and work in education. "The people who are helping you, who are accepting you into college here, they understand what it means to have immigrant parents, to maybe be working a job while going to college. Everything is so family-oriented and friendly."

Karime Rincon's parents immigrated from Mexico, and she is a first-generation student also enrolled in the BA/MA Psychology program. She points out that SFC fosters an environment in which open dialogue among first-generation students flourishes.

"I found that the school is very encouraging in hearing what students of first-generation families have to say, what their experiences are like," said Rincon '22, who plans to become a neuropsychologist. "My parents don't know the college system and how it works here in the United States. I had to learn on my own. St. Francis allowed me to connect with others from first-generation families who were also having to adapt to something we weren't really used to."

The Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-generation Student Success launched the inaugural First-Generation College Celebration on November 8, 2017. The date marks the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which established federal grants, loans and investments in institutions of higher education necessary for postsecondary access, retention, and completion for low-income, potential first-generation college graduates.

*Data collected SFC via FAFSA, fall 2019