They are the first in their families ever to go to university and the first to admit it is not easy.

But a mentoring program for “first-generation” kids like them, plus the friendship of the campus United Black Students club helped Diandra Hayles and Erik Flowchild feel part of Ryerson University.

Now in second year and doing well, Hayles and Flowchild belong to a growing group of at-risk students choosing to stay and graduate from Ontario’s colleges and universities, according to data released Thursday by Queen’s Park.

In the past five years, the graduation rate for universities across Ontario has climbed to 78 per cent and for community colleges, the graduation rate has increased to 65 per cent, said John Milloy, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities.

At Ryerson, the graduation rate has climbed to 76 per cent in the past two years, said provost Alan Shepard.

Hayles said she didn’t begin to feel like she belonged until she discovered the mentoring program.

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