We ain’t in the Mountains Anymore: Supporting First-Generation Graduate Students from Rural Appalachia

The decision to go to college can be a difficult one for all students but students from rural, Appalachian homes may be faced with issues that complicate this decision such as increased financial issues, lack of familial support, and difficulty leaving home for your degree and possibly after to pursue a career. These complications do not only apply to a decision about an undergraduate degree but a graduate degree as well. Students may also have issues related to identity and socialization as they pursue their degrees.

Many campuses across the country have offices and programs dedicated to first-generation students. However, the majority of these programs are focused on undergraduate student success. Federally funded TRIO programs such as Student Support Service and the Ronald E. McNair Program support first-generation undergraduates on campuses across the United States (www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/trio/index.html).

Research on first-generation and rural students also focuses on undergraduate students with more limited studies on graduate students. In order to better serve first-generation graduate students, especially those from Appalachia, there should be more research conducted on the needs of this group of students as well as more programming should be implemented to serve the unique challenges faced by the population during their graduate degree programs.

This paper will promote a dialogue about how higher education professionals can best support first-generation students from Appalachia. Graduate students from Appalachia should be encouraged to use their experiences to foster discussion of issues facing Appalachia during their degree programs rather than mask their identities from their peers and professors.