Becoming an Individual & Institutional Advocate for First-generation College Students
Student Success Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice
While large numbers of current undergraduate students identify as first-generation, this population continues to earn baccalaureate degrees less often than continuing-generation peers. Yet, first-generation students are shown to have stronger academic and completion outcomes in environments where their needs are understood and thoughtful relationships are established. This live briefing will focus on opportunities for student and academic affairs professionals of all functional areas and levels to become individual and institutional advocates for first-generation student success.
First-generation college student: “a student for whom neither parent attended college or a student for whom neither parent attained a baccalaureate degree” (Ward, Siegel & Davenport, 2012, p. 3). First-generation college students are more likely than their continuing-generation college students to have pre-college characteristics that ultimately place them at an immediate disadvantage to college success (Stebleton, Soria, & Huesman, 2014). However, first-generation college students and higher education leaders have the opportunity to reframe these pre-college characteristics and shift the paradigm to view them as ways to manage stress and ultimately thrive and succeed within the college environment (Stephens, Townsend, Hamedani, Destin & Manzo, 2015). Before first-generation college students even begin attending their first college course, a number of factors will already impede their likelihood of succeeding when compared to their continuing-generation peers (Somers, Woodhouse, & Cofer, 2004). Engle, Bermeo, and O’Brien (2006) stated that “Preparing for and going to college is a “leap of faith” for these students because no one else in their families has done it before them” (p. 5).
Thus, first-generation college students commonly have no or lower aspirations to pursue a postsecondary education compared to continuing-generation college students (Engle, Bermeo & O’Brien, 2006).
Colleges and universities have an opportunity to shift the paradigm of support for first-generation college students from a deficit approach. First-generation college students take great pride in succeeding and graduating (Gibbons & Woodside, 2014). However, first-generation students “who dropped out of college believed they needed to figure out how to do college on their own” (Lightweis, 2014, p. 466). Instead, when higher education institutions shift this paradigm, they have an opportunity to not only improve retention rates but also provide a holistic support system for student success. According to Tibbetts, Harackiewicz, Canning, Boston, Priniski, & Hyde (2016), “When the university culture was depicted as more interdependent (with an emphasis on working together, participating in collaborative research, and learning from others), first-generation students performed as well” as continuing-generation college students (p. 636).
This live briefing will focus on opportunities for student and academic affairs professionals of all functional areas and levels to become individual and institutional advocates for first-generation student success.
By participanting in this session, participants will:
- reflect on how they and their institution currently serve first-generation students;
- navigate the shift from deficit to asset-based approaches; and
- construct a plan to become an individual and institutional advocate for first-generation college students.