A Ph.D student at the Graduate School of Education found in a new study that universities have largely failed to adequately communicate with and address the needs of first-generation students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marcus Wright, who is also the undergraduate program manager and academic coordinator in the Department of Sociology, published the paper “Generation-Blindness and the COVID-19 Websites of Highly Selective Universities” as part of the Penn Education and Inequality Working Papers column. His work delves into the barriers first-generation college students face when figuring out information and solutions by themselves.
Wright told the OMNIA podcast by Penn Arts & Sciences that many undergraduate institutions fail to take into account the unique challenges first-generation college students encounter. Wright derives much of his expertise from his own experience as a first-generation student.
“I looked at going to college as this chance to really just go have a lot of fun, explore new things, and meet new people, but there was so much more I didn’t even know that I didn’t know,” Wright said on OMNIA.
Wright analyzed the landing page and undergraduate links of 24 highly selective universities to see how they adjusted their websites during COVID-19, Penn Today reported. He found that only one mentioned first-generation students, while others only briefly mentioned issues concerning first-generation students, such as home and family life while learning remotely.
First-generation, low-income students told The Daily Pennsylvanian in the fall that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities at the University, including concerns about work-study jobs and housing insecurity that came as Penn abruptly announced changes to its plans.
Wright told OMNIA that his research showed him that, for the overwhelming majority, universities did not prioritize the needs for first-generation students or address them during this time.
"We as institutions need to reimagine ourselves so that we’re better at valuing and rewarding what first-generation students bring to our institution," Wright told OMNIA.