At the heart of today’s college completion conundrum is the challenge of helping more first-generation college-goers, especially low-income students and students of color, start and finish strong. While first-generation students compose nearly one-third of students entering two- or four-year colleges and universities in the US, only 11 percent of low-income, first-generation students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. The first-year experience is especially problematic for these students—the Pell Institute found that low-income, first-generation students were almost four times more likely to leave college after the first year than more affluent peers.

More than Financial Support

How can institutions help first-generation students beat the odds in their first year? Increasingly, student success experts find that experiences beyond the classroom walls may hold the key. First-generation, minority and low-income students need more than just financial support to be successful to stay on track toward completing college.

With the help of emerging digital tools and innovative coaching methodology, institutions are creating new models to support the first-generation college student and seeing real progress. Here are several ways in which success coaching and technology can unlock the potential of first-generation, low-income students:

1. Navigate bureaucratic hurdles. Too often, college can feel like a bureaucratic labyrinth for first-generation students as they maneuver through the financial aid process, class scheduling and registration. It’s a daunting task, especially for students who are the first in their family to go through the process. Service centers on campus often go underutilized, and students don’t know how to begin or where to obtain information.

Improving student communication and reaching them through text and email can go a long way in preparing students for success from the start of college through their first semester. Even simple notifications can help remind students about financial aid or course registration deadlines and begin to map out class schedules aligned with their career goals and general education requirements.

2. Foster soft skills. Employers are increasingly looking for–and are having difficulty finding–candidates with strong soft skills, including communication and organization. According to a recent study, jobs with high social–or ‘soft’ skill requirements are in higher demand and pay more. These skills sometimes fall by the wayside in favor of traditional academic skills, but are critical not only for completion but for career readiness.

By focusing on enhancing a students’ ability to problem solve, persevere and show grit, you are setting them up to succeed not only in academic settings, but for their future career.

(Next page: 3 more ways to help boost first-year student retention; measurable gains)


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