NASPA and The Suder Foundation Commit to First-generation Student Success

I kinda thought once I jumped all the hoops to get to college on my own, it would get easier but, you know what, it didn’t. More stuff just kept happening. My parents didn’t go to college so they really couldn’t help me and I was always just trying to figure it out on my own. Trying to get by. Sometimes I’d ask my roommate or maybe someone else at school. I was just surprised that college didn’t immediately get easier and I still needed help. Still do. 

–Annie, first-generation student, now a college junior

Annie’s story isn’t unique and most student affairs practitioners likely have a roster of students with similar experiences. Across the country, institutions are making significant strides to understand the needs of first-generation students in their campus communities and to tackle the daunting process of defining, identifying, tracking, and supporting these students. When exploring options, a plethora of summer bridge programs, learning communities, scholarship initiatives, and mentoring relationships emerge as pathways for first-generation success. Programs for faculty outreach, new curricular approaches, and tailored advising structures are being implemented to look beyond just the first weeks, or even the first year, of college. While first-generation students have been fixtures on college campuses for decades and much is known about their college experiences, additional scholarship is necessary for continuing to understand and meet the needs of this growing and evolving population. Moreover, a strong scholarly knowledge base is critical for institutions to develop empirically-based practices and programs. First-generation students also navigate a complicated web of intersecting identities and experiences that shape their educational journeys that, in some cases, may be impediments to success. The process can be understandably overwhelming for both students and practitioners.

As the leading voice for student affairs professionals, NASPA is keenly aware of the growing presence of first-generation college students across campuses, the barriers to success faced by these students, and the myriad attempts by institutions to provide academic, financial, moral, and emotional support. The Suder Foundation, through their signature First Scholars program, has made a significant investment in improving the resources available to first-generation students at many campuses. Last week, an announcement of a joint venture between NASPA and The Suder Foundation was made establishing a Center for First-generation Student Success. Headquartered at NASPA’s Washington, DC office and generously funded by The Suder Foundation, the Center aims to become the leading resource for research, scholarship, and practice related to first-generation student success and to improve the number of evidence-based programs at institutions across the country.

Recently, attendees of the Closing the Achievement Gap conference and Symposium on Collegiate Financial Well-Being had the opportunity to hear about the Center’s preliminary strategic plan and offer feedback on the proposed vision. The energy around the Center was palpable and officially began the “what’s next” phase of discussion. To begin, the Center is focused on four strategic priority areas, listed below, that will unfold over the coming months and years:

  • Building Infrastructure
  • Establishing a Community of Practice
  • Clearinghouse for Scholarly Research & Effective Practice:
  • First-generation Program Expansion

A branding process is underway to identify the Center as a resource for first-generation research, scholarship, and practice. Resulting materials will be used to develop an interactive website with content tailored to the needs of a range of institution types and program structures. A national landscape analysis of first-generation programs and services will soon be underway to better understand current offerings and to shape Center planning. Findings from the landscape analysis will be announced upon completion and available through NASPA’s website. Avenues for engaging industry leaders, researchers, and practitioners in advisory board capacities is currently under consideration.

Moving forward, our priority is to identify opportunities for the expansion of research and knowledge through conferences and publications as well as professional development through cohort-based learning and institutional partnerships. The 2018 NASPA Annual Conference will offer myriad opportunities for engaging with first-generation scholarship and programming as well as intentional networking with colleagues. 

Long-range, the Center will create implementation guides to support those seeking to offer first-generation programs on their campuses, develop structures for measuring and reporting first-generation student success, and expand resources from The Suder Foundation’s First Scholars Program for availability to NASPA membership.

Since the announcement, emails to NASPA asking about Center involvement have poured in.  The simple answer is, yes, absolutely, there will be so many ways for individuals and institutions to engage with the Center!  It is our sincere hope that the Center will become your first stop as a resource for understanding and supporting first-generation student success.  In the meantime, stop by the temporary website, tell us more about your programs and services, and follow us on Twitter @FirstgenCenter.   

The Center for First-generation Student Success will serve as the primary entity to increase the research, scholarship, and effective practice supporting first-generation student success and to expand the number of institutions with evidence-based programs.