First-generation college students need a lot more than diplomas to succeed in higher education

Area colleges target at-risk students

COVINGTON, Ky. – Willnesha Williams had trouble getting out of her own way from at Holmes High School.

"Freshman year, I always got in trouble with my mouth. It was not about me fighting or anything. I just had a problem with authority," she said.
Williams was shipped off for parts of her sophomore and junior years to Covington's alternative school – first for mouthing off to teachers and staff, second for sending threatening tweets to a classmate and, finally, for getting caught with students who were smoking marijuana – though she was not smoking it. Her run-ins jeopardized an otherwise promising academic career.

But with a lot of tough love from school and home, she gradually realized that teachers and principals were fighting for her and not against her, and she got back on track to graduate near the top of her class last spring from Holmes.

Williams leaves for Kentucky State University this month, where she plans to major in pre-med on her way to becoming a pediatrician. A volleyball scholarship and $12,000 in financial aid will help her afford the steep cost of college.

Statistically, though, she has an uphill climb to graduate. A sobering 89 percent of first-generation college students from low-income families like Williams fail to graduate within six years of enrollment, compared to 45 percent of in the general college population.

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