California colleges launch new efforts to support first-gen students

Starting college without a family member to rely on for guidance can be both intimidating and difficult, so colleges across California are launching initiatives to shepherd first-generation students towards graduation.

Graduation rates for first-generation students are, on average, 14 percentage points lower than rates for other students, reports a study from the University of California, Los Angeles' Higher Education Research Institute.

The University of California (UC) System conducted an internal study on the state of their own first-generation student population and found the following:

  • About 42% of undergraduate students are the first in their family to attend college;
  • Among students who began in 2012, only 57% of first-gen students obtained a bachelor's degree within four years, compared with 69% of their peers; and
  • UC enrolls a higher proportion of first-gen students than the national average for four-year institutions.

As first-gen faculty members are in the perfect position to connect their student counterparts with campus resources, UC is tapping in their 900 first-gen faculty members to wear identifying pins across the first week of class, reports UC.

In addition, the system launched an online portal for current and prospective first-gen students that features leadership profiles of first-gen students, staff, alumni, and faculty, reports UC.

How to improve first-gen student success

When UC community members show pride in their first-gen experience, it encourages students to seek guidance and makes them feel that they belong, says UC president Janet Napolitano.

California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB) is also making moves to eliminate persistence barriers for first-gen students, reports Harold Pierce for the Bakersfield Californian.

The institution no longer requires students to earn a minor and is launching a "15 to Finish" campaign that emphasizes the importance of the 15-credit semester to stay on the four-year graduation track, writes Pierce.

All seven members of the president's cabinet, including President Horace Mitchell himself, are first-generation, so administrators identify with the feelings of self-doubt that often plague these students, says provost Jenny Zorn.

Zorn hopes that their initiatives will tell first-gen students they have "earned the right to right to be here" (McPhate, New York Times, 9/1; Pierce, Bakersfield Californian, 9/1; UC press release, 9/1).  

Where first-gen students go after graduation

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