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The east-facing entrance to the University Advisement & Enrichment Services Center building on UNM main campus.

UNM programs support first-gen students

With nearly half of all students enrolled at the University of New Mexico being first-generation college students, the University has a variety of support systems to guide these students toward success.

First-gen student Danilo Franco, a junior majoring in computer engineering, accredited some of his success at UNM to the support he’s received from the University’s resources.

“My freshman year I had way too many hurdles to get over, and the concern was how I would fill in the gap between what I was able to pay and what I got through scholarships,” Franco said. “I definitely utilize the resources on campus often.”

UNM’s College Enrichment Program provides resources specific to first-generation students through guidance from four advisors. “First 2 Finish,” a program entirely devoted to assisting first-generation students, is currently in the works with no projected completion date yet.

Trinidad Mendoza, student success supervisor with the College Enrichment Program, was a first-generation student at UNM and accredited his passion for advisement and supervising to his own experience with mentors who understood the difficulties of navigating college as a first-gen student. Now, as a mentor, the perspectives are reversed.

“I can really see myself in them,” Mendoza said. “They don’t have that prior knowledge … A lot of times they wonder, ‘Where can I find help?’”

Mendoza hopes to guide UNM’s first-generation students in navigating the hardships of university life and believes that support from an understanding individual can make all the difference when it comes to academic success.

“Thankfully, I was almost taken under (the program’s) wings when I was here as a student, advised and mentored … I can’t actually believe you can get paid to do this,” Mendoza said.

First-generation college students are at a higher risk of dropping out of college due to a lack of cultural capital, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Cultural capital refers to an understanding of university expectations and requirements provided as generational knowledge.

First-gen students from lower-income families face an even bigger challenge. A study from the Pell Institute found that “low-income, first-generation students were nearly four times more likely … to leave higher education after the first year” when compared to students without these risk factors.

In an attempt to keep students from dropping out, Aim to Achieve is an initiative where UNM will pay for the final semester of first-time freshmen who graduate in eight regular semesters. Aim to Achieve allows for potential savings of nearly $40,000 for out-of-state students, according to its website. It also says the potentially lessened burden of tuition is meant to serve as motivation to graduate on time and reduce debt for students, contending two issues prevalent for first-generation students.

The University also provides many resources, including free tutoring, mentoring and career-related guidance, through Student Support Services-TRIO, a federally-funded program aiming to increase UNM’s retention and graduation rates. 

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As the majority of students serviced through SSS-TRIO are first-generation, these provisions are targeted to alleviate stressors unique to first-generation students, according to SSS-TRIO’s website. The website says the process begins with assistance applying for enrollment and financial aid and ends with advocacy through the transitional period between graduation and career entry.

“College has been difficult and navigating it as a first-generation college student hasn’t been easy at all, but I’ve made it this far with the University,” Franco said. “I’m only halfway through it but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Natalie Jude is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at and on Twitter @natalaroni

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