How Your Campus Can Help First Generation Students Succeed

Posted by Josh Young on 18 May 2017 |

First generation students -- those who come from homes where neither parent have attended college previously -- face a number of challenges that can frustrate their educational careers. In fact, being a first-generation student is more likely to play a role in attaining a degree than family income.

According to data compiled by the Pell Institute, only 21 percent of first-generation students from a low income household were likely to obtain a bachelor's degree within six years of first attending college. And first generation students not from a low-income household only achieved a completion rate of 31 percent.

Conversely, students who had at least one parent with a college degree fared much better in obtaining a bachelor's degree within six years, whether from a low-income family (37 percent) or from a wealthier home (57 percent).

What Can Your Campus Do?

Rethink admissions

Traditionally, first-generation students come from lower income households and underfunded school districts. Research also suggests that first-generation students tend to achieve lower SAT and ACT test scores than their peers and have less core academic preparation.

Given this fact, your school should restructure its admission decisions to make them in context, such as whether or not the student had to work to support their family, or did their school offer Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or other honors or college preparatory courses.

Rather than relying exclusively on testing scores to determine academic merit and rigor, consider evaluating if the student has demonstrated their talents or academic commitment in other capacities, such as participating in scholastic or community organizations.


As the first in their family to attend university, many first-generation students are forced to figure out the "hidden curriculum" of college -- knowing how to receive financial aid, choose a major, study effectively, and navigate bureaucracy -- on their own.

To help alleviate some of this burden, California State University Dominguez Hills has established its Summer Bridge Academy, a six-week program that offers incoming students access to "academic courses and cohort workshops that provide students the opportunity to develop study skills, network with peers and faculty, and connect to campus resources."

Intercollegiate partnerships

In 2014, 31 percent of all first-time, full-time students were enrolled at public, two-year community colleges, including 43 percent of Hispanic and 36 percent of black first-generation college students.

By creating partnerships with local community colleges to create clear, attainable pathways to a four-year degree, your campus can better serve these frequently underserved groups.

Targeted Support

Consider designing programs specifically focused on supporting the unique needs of first-generation students. Last year, Brown University launched its First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center, which will offer dedicated office, meeting, classroom, and event spaces for these learners. In addition, the school has dedicated a graduate coordinator and six undergraduate coordinators to help guide these students throughout their scholastic careers.

While your school may not be able to fully-fund a new facility, it can likely dedicate space and resources to the large population of first-generation students on your campus.

Jobs programs

Based on the most recent student data made available by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 40 percent of full-time students and 76 percent of part-time students held a job while attending college. And first-generation students are no exception.

In fact, as first-generation students routinely come from lower income household, they tend to be more likely to be employed in addition to their studies, limiting the time and energy they can devote to academic pursuits.

To aid all of your students, consider improving your campus employment services. By helping all of your students to more easily find work either on campus or in roles related to their fields of study, your school can help them gain valuable first-hand experience that will reinforce classroom learning and help foster academic success.


A 2011 study of more than 13,000 college students found that those who participated in mentoring and learning programs were 10 to 15 percent more likely to continue to the next year of college. And 4 percent more likely to graduate.

If possible, implement peer-mentoring programs, which will allow first-generation students to learn from their classmates how to better navigate and comprehend the "hidden curriculum."


By offering your first-generation students some additional training and guided support -- particularly in their freshmen year -- your campus can empower them to succeed not only while at school but in the years beyond college.

To learn how we can work with your school to equip your students to succeed in their academic careers, request a demo of our services today

comments powered by Disqus

Request a Demo

We're sorry but the selected page is no longer available, we've redirected you to our How Your Campus Can Help First Generation Students Succeed page.