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How Four-Year Colleges Impact First-Generation Student Success

Photo: Courtesy of Good Free Photos

Sarah E. Whitley

Senior Director, Center for First-Generation Student Success, NASPA

According to a recent report from the Center for First-Generation Student Success, the way information about student demographics is shared across campuses can dramatically impact the success of first-generation students. While 80 percent of institutions surveyed identify first-generation status at the point of admission, that critical detail is not always disseminated in a meaningful way with professionals who work with the students. The Center’s analysis found that while 61 percent of four-year institutions tracked outcomes for first-generation students, fewer than half used the data to inform support programs and only 28 percent had systems to share first-generation status with faculty and staff.

Successful support systems

Campuses with the most success supporting first-generation students take a proactive and asset-based approach. They acknowledge and celebrate the substantial contributions of first-generation students to campus life by developing programs to improve community and dismantle systemic barriers to success. Since first-generation students make up a third of students nationwide, these supports are imperative. Nationally, these institutions are designing first-generation-specific orientation and welcome experiences, programs focused on transition and acclimation and living-learning communities. These efforts provide first-generation students with exposure and connections that are critical to increasing their comfort and building critical skills in this unchartered territory. The success of these programs is largely predicated on offering them to students at little to no additional cost.

Even when resources are limited, higher education can begin addressing disparities in campus supports by strengthening data collection and dissemination about first-generation status and improving the reach of existing efforts for a networked approach.

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