The Hidden Curriculum: First Generation Students at Legacy Universities

by Derek Rogers, Director of College Counseling

In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the issues facing first-generation college students.  Often lacking in popular reports, however, is a more nuanced analysis of their journey and how it intersects with, and diverges from, the experiences of their peers.  I was therefore pleased to come across The Hidden Curriculum: First Generation Students at Legacy Universities, by Rachel Gable, released this past January.    

The Hidden Curriculum is based on Gable’s doctoral research, which was part of the First-Generation Student Success Project, conducted by Richard Light of Harvard University.  The book explores the perspectives of 91 first generation college students and 35 continuing generation students attending Harvard and Georgetown University.  Students were interviewed during their sophomore and senior years, providing an in-depth look at the successes and challenges they experienced throughout their college careers.  Gable, the Director of Institutional Effectiveness at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, uses student narratives to highlight the presence of “the hidden curriculum” or “the tacit rules of educational practice” present on their campus. Importantly, the author encourages institutions to make the hidden curriculum accessible to all students and to evaluate its purpose in creating a positive student experience. 

Our work at Rainier Scholars directly addresses the topics discussed in The Hidden Curriculum.  Throughout a student’s time in our program, we explicitly address the challenges they may face as first-generation college students and help them develop the learning habits that lead to academic, personal, and career success. We continue to counsel and support them throughout their college journey and encourage our alumni to support younger scholars.  As a result, our students are well prepared to navigate “the hidden curriculum” of the colleges they attend and to be catalysts for a more inclusive experience for all students.