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Credit: Sammie Yoon

The Daily Pennsylvanian editorial addressed to the future students of the Class of 2022 noted that first-generation, low-income students account for one-sixth of the incoming class. The editorial claims that “there’s never been a better time to attend Penn” if you’re FGLI. With last week being GENWEEK, a week-long national event celebrating FGLI students, and my first-year at Penn coming to a close, I would like to shed light on my perspective as a FGLI freshman. 

Looking back, I benefited from various resources this year that were the result of the work of the Vice Provost for University Life and the Penn First student group. Since 2016, the First-Generation, Low-Income program was housed in the Greenfield Intercultural Center at 3708 Chestnut St. In this building, I am able to receive free textbooks from the FGLI Lending Library, where they have a collection of donated books for some of the popular classes at Penn. If there aren’t any in stock, purchasing requests can be made. 

In the GIC, there is also free printing, a food pantry, and a kitchen. On the more academic side, the GIC established a partnership with the Weingarten Center to create study groups with a tutor for subjects such as PSYC 001 and ECON 001 (fall) and CHEM 102 and ECON 002 (spring). Some other helpful resources offered by the program include emergency funds, grants for commencement regalia, career and internship assistance, and help with summer storage. The GIC and its programs are overseen by Valerie De Cruz, who I believe cares a lot for all of the students and is very involved with the FGLI community. 

FGLI students are also eligible to arrive on campus early and take part in the Pre-Freshman Program, a “four-week academically-focused summer program that introduces students to the array of intellectual and social opportunities at Penn.” Students in the program who receive grant aid also receive an additional grant that covers 80 percent of their summer earnings expectation. I personally did not participate in PFP, but many of my FGLI peers did. 

Additionally, there have been initiatives such as the Thanksgiving, Winter, and Spring Break meal programs that have been established to help high-need students who aren’t able to travel home during these academic breaks. 

According to an emailed statement from Senior University Director of Student Financial Aid Elaine Papas Varas, “[Student Registration and Financial Services] and Penn Dining have offered meal break programs for the past two years.” All of these resources and programs have been tremendously beneficial for my first year. 

The FGLI community at Penn is very supportive, inclusive, and helpful when it comes to academic and personal issues. Two organizations that are meant for FGLI students include Penn First and Seven|Eight, which serves Asian-American students that identify as FGLI. There is also a FGLI community GroupMe chat in which students help each other out by answering one another’s questions, promoting upcoming campus events, and announcing various mentorship and work-related opportunities. 

Credit: Madeleine Ngo

There is a mutual understanding of the struggles FGLI students have to go through every day on this campus. This is one primary reason why conferences like 1vyG, which was held at Penn in February, exists: to promote the advancement of FGLI students during college and beyond. 

However, there is still room for improvement. Penn lags behind some of its Ivy peers when it comes to FGLI financial aid strategies. Penn should follow the examples set by Harvard University and Yale University by offering a freshman “startup” grant of $2,000. At both schools, freshmen are eligible for $1,000 grants in the fall and spring semesters if their household income is less than $65,000. Families in this income bracket are generally not expected to contribute any money at all to their child’s education. At Yale, low-income students receive $600 supplemental grants in their remaining college years. In 2016, the editorial board of The Daily Princetonian called on Princeton University to adopt a similar program.

These startup grants are beneficial because they help FGLI students offset some costs such as purchasing a new laptop, buying winter clothing, and travel expenses. As a freshman, there have been many hidden costs that I did not account for when moving to Penn including dorm furniture and school supplies. Having a startup grant would have eased some financial stress.

While a part-time or work-study job could serve a similar purpose, some FGLI students contribute some or all their earnings to help their family survive during the summer and the school year. 

Although Penn has a greater financial aid budget than both Harvard and Yale, Penn’s freshman class has nearly 1,000 more students than both schools do.

Penn’s many existing FGLI programs speak to its commitment to its students. However, adopting Harvard and Yale’s startup grant program would be an innovative way to ease the financial burden each new class of FGLI students undergo every academic year.


CARLOS ARIAS VIVAS is a College freshman from Stamford, Conn., studying communication. His email address is cariasv@sas.upenn.edu.

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