Despite some progress and the emergence of best practices, supportive efforts are often hindered by lack of resources and inconsistent definitions for first-generation status across programs. Using a more uniform definition of “first-generation student” consistently on campuses would allow for recognition of the vast intersectionality between first-generation students, scaling of services, decreased duplicative efforts, and more accurate benchmarking.
Investing in resources is critical, but institutions also can improve services through better networking of existing support programs and offices. Florida State University and Chapman University both offer highly-successful, networked approaches to summer bridge programs for first-gen students. Florida State brings more than 400 students to campus for a one-week orientation, followed by six weeks of classes for credit, at no cost to the student. At Chapman, the bridge program focuses solely on transition and acclimation, and is provided for free to students through a partnership between residence life and the first-year experience.
Other institutions are providing wrap-around supports that may not require substantial funding or staffing, such as peer or alumni mentoring programs.
“We’re sending students into environments that were not created with them in mind. We don’t have to hold their hands every day, but we have to walk beside them. Not because they’re at a deficit, but because the institution is not nimble enough to effectively give them what they need to be successful,” says Kaye Monk-Morgan, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs and former director of TRIO Upward Bound Math Science Center at Wichita State University, in the report.
10 recommendations to support first-gen students
The report offers a number of recommendations, discussed in detail in the report, for institutions as they seek to establish or expand support for first-generation students:
1. Establish a common first-generation definition early
2. Mobilize for institutional change, not just another program
3. Engage a community of advocates to lead sustained change
4. Conduct a comprehensive institutional assessment of the first-generation student experience
5. Dismantle silos for a networked approach
6. Create systems for actionable data and advancing research
7. Foster an asset-based campus culture for first-gen students
8. Weigh the balance between broad reach and meaningful, sustained engagement
9. Offer appropriate first-generation involvement opportunities with intentionality
10. Consider post-completion engagement from the time of admission
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