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4 Tips For Supporting & Celebrating First-Generation College Students

Strategies for First-Gen College Student Support 

How can institutions provide practical support for first-generation college students to be successful in college? First-generation college-goers experience various challenges as they enter and move through higher education. Much of the existing research indicates that students whose parents did not attend college are more likely than their non-first-generation counterparts to be less academically prepared for college, to have less knowledge of how to apply for college and financial assistance and to have more difficulty in acclimating themselves to college once they enroll (Tym, et al., 2005). As such, educational institutions should provide first-generation college students with the information and guidance they need to understand how to prepare for and select the right college to attend, persist in college successfully, and prepare for life after college. In celebration of National First Generation Student Day, discover four pivotal strategies that academic institutions can adopt to champion the success of first-generation college students.

1. Provide Orientation Programs for First-Generation Learners

Getting first-generation students on campus early is essential to help learners connect with support resources and begin to form a community! An Insider Higher Ed study found that first-generation students identified orientation programming developed specifically for students like themselves as necessary to their sense of belonging. 

2. Personalize The Financial Aid Process

Institutions should be intentional about demystifying the financial aid process for first-generation students. Working with area high schools to develop programming for first-generation families to educate them about the financial aid process can be an essential first step in building trust. Amid this crucial period for engagement, institutions should collaborate with on-campus departments such as the School of Business or First-Year Experience programs to enhance first-generation students' financial literacy and foster meaningful connections with their parents and guardians. 

3. Create Opportunities For Mentorship

Faculty, staff, more experienced students, and alumni are invaluable as mentors to first-generation students, providing practical and inspiring guidance. Formal mentorship programs are crucial, offering a platform for these students to ask questions, access resources, and share their experiences openly. Such relationships are a cornerstone in fostering academic success, retention, and degree completion for first-generation learners. To further enhance this support system, tutors can play a significant role. Listen to M.E. McWilliams' top tips, where she delves into effective strategies tutors can employ to uplift and empower first-generation students throughout their educational journey.

4. Teach Faculty & Staff About First-Generation Student Experiences 

Institutions should ensure that all faculty and staff have engaged with training and resources that speak to the experiences of first-generation learners. Whether online training or inviting speakers to campus, professional development opportunities emphasize an institution's commitment to its first-generation students' success. For further ideas, check out our recent podcast “Friday 5 Live! Supporting First-Generation College Students With A Cultural Strengths Approach” where Dr. Shantell Strickland-Davis discusses the cultural strengths approach to support the one in three college students who identify as first-generation. She shares actionable strategies for classrooms and student services to enhance engagement and success for this vital student demographic.

Transforming Student Success: Empowering Institutions With Innovative Educators' Solutions

For nearly 20 years, Innovative Educators has assisted college leaders to build foundations of success for their students. Institutions have seen student engagement and retention increase as a result of utilizing Go2Orientation, OnlineLingo and StudentLingo to onboard new students. Grounded in best practices for online learning, Innovative Educators student support tools are engaging, interactive, and community-building. Go2Orientation, OnlineLingo and StudentLingo together create a powerful online resource center providing support to students throughout their academic journey.

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By Meg Foster
Online Learning & Design Specialist - Consultant


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