Assistant Dean Publishes on First-Generation Students in the Ivy League

Visiting lecturer at the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program at Dartmouth and Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Affairs, Kerry Landers, has published her first book, titled Post-Secondary Education for First Generation and Low-Income Students in the Ivy League, (Palgrave Macmillan). The book comes at an opportune moment for institutions of higher education, many of which are keenly aware of the need to diversify the student body and faculty while simultaneously embedding support structures and resources into the community.

Access to highly selective institutions for high-achieving, low income students remains challenging: only around 3% of students from the lowest income backgrounds make up the student body and only 40% of first generation students will graduate compared with 55% of their peers with family members who hold a college degree.

These figures stem from two factors: high achieving students from low income backgrounds are less likely to apply to highly selective institutions and face funding barriers if they do; secondly, once accepted, the system assumes previous knowledge, which can be extrapolated either the experience and knowledge of family members who have themselves navigated higher education. Many of these students can draw from neither, and so find themselves faced with situations for which they are unprepared and sometimes unable to overcome.

Addressing the paucity of work in this latter area, Landers’ book chronicles an ethnographic study of twenty low-income men and women in their senior year at Dartmouth College and follows up with them four and twelve years post-graduation. By helping to bring visibility and self-awareness to low-income students and expose class issues and struggles, the author hopes to encourage elite institutions to change their policies and practices to address the needs of these students.

Landers brings a well-placed perspective to this work, drawing from her professional role as Assistant Dean, and personal experiences as a first-generation scholar. Best-selling author and Dartmouth alumna, Gina Barecca ’79, enthusiastically endorses Landers’ book. “This book presents an engaging, wide-ranging discussion of the importance, function, and implications of class difference among students in America’s elite institutions. Told with grace, humor, generosity, and insight, these stories will interest not only those of us who have emerged from working class backgrounds but those who are mystified by how folks without financial and cultural privileges rise to attain them.”

Numerous students from Dartmouth have benefited from the work Landers does in both personal advising situations in her capacity as Assistant Dean, but also in the many events and gatherings she coordinates to bring students of diverse backgrounds together to explore career opportunities, providing a space for dialog around what it means to be a first-generation student at Dartmouth.