They've worked hard, studied hard and now they've been accepted to Rutgers University. But for first-year, first-generation college students, there are still several other obstacles to overcome. Many of these students are low-income and face barriers to success in college that would not be barriers for other students.

The Paul Robeson Leadership Institute at Rutgers-New Brunswick helps these kids get ready for the college experience.

The program is named in honor of Paul Robeson, a renowned civil rights activist, singer and actor and the third African-American to attend Rutgers.

Director of Student Support Services at the Paul Robeson Leadership Institute, Jason Moore says the program assists first-generation students in assuring that because they may not be familiar with the college-going process and how to navigate the college landscape. This provides some structured assistance.

He says last year the first cohort of 40 students took part in the program and Rutgers got a good return on their investment.

"Fifty percent made the dean's list through spring 2017 and 68 percent of that cohort is above a 3.0," says Moore.

Besides getting these kids academically ready, the Robeson Institute program also aims to develop the students' so-called "soft skills" to help them succeed in college. They are able to take what they've learned in the classroom and apply those skills toward that degree.

Moore says the greatest obstacle for these first-generation students is self-advocacy. Keep in mind, he says, they are coming from a mindset of high school where there is little opportunity to voice themselves.

When it comes to course work, it's about having more of a critical analysis of what a student learned or read.

"Argument is healthy. Debate is healthy. We want you to be able to have a critical analysis, thought process and have some facts to back up what your opinion is to validate that," stresses Moore.

Once a student can master debate, they start to become more comfortable, he says, and then it becomes easier to communicate their thoughts and feelings. In turn, this increases their visibility with staff and faculty across campus.

Sixty first-year, first-generation college students are currently enrolled in the program at the Robeson Institute. Moore says enrollment is being revamped this year to increase the numbers.

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