How this university answers 2,000 first-gen student questions per day

Many institutions offer support to first-generation students during orientation. But while the initial campus transition is the hardest, the challenges for first-generation students can continue throughout the academic term.

To help simplify campus navigation, Eastern Kentucky University developed the EKU GURUs program—a centralized, accessible resource to triage any student question or concern.

EKU hires and trains 35 students as GURUs each year. GURUs work out of three on-campus locations and collectively offer tutoring in over 30 subject areas. Each student specializes in two to three subjects, in addition to supporting students with study skills like time management.

Each GURU also serves as a liaison to two student services units and one academic area. They meet biweekly with senior representatives from each department to collect information. They use that information to update a central wiki page, so that any GURU can view the updates and answer any student question.

What differentiates the GURUs program from traditional one-stop shops is that the student employees become a partner in problem-solving and work side by side with students to address any challenges they are facing.

Sometimes solutions are simple. For example, if a student wants to get involved on campus, a GURU can provide them with a list of opportunities and contact information.

Others are less simple. A student may come in and need to petition their financial aid package. In this case, the GURU would accompany the student to the financial aid office and stay with them until their problem is resolved. This way having to navigate several different offices or facing language that they may not understand, does not prevent a student from resolving their issue.

One of the reasons GURUs are able to provide so much support to students is because they are recognized as a resource on campus and students are comfortable reaching out to them. With all of the information they have through their liaison responsibilities, they are seen as a hub of information at the institution.

They are able to use social media to push out important information to the entire campus community through their robust presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They have 2,320 followers on Twitter and over 3,000 followers on Facebook, where they also answer student questions directly. This presence also helps drive in-person traffic to their offices.

Data collected by EKU highlights the size of the impact the GURUs program is having on students. Most recently, staff found that GURUs answer 2,000 student questions per day—including approximately 100 via social media—and complete 3,000 homework help sessions per semester.

They have also seen increases in overall retention rates. Students who met with a GURU retained at a rate of 89%, compared with a 68% retention rate for students who did not meet with a GURU. Even taking self-selection bias into account, the GURUs at EKU have made a real impact.

GURUs offer an approachable resource for students that eliminates the navigational barriers that first-generation college students, in particular, face when trying to get questions answered or challenges addressed on campus. There is no need for students to know exactly which office to go to, guess which words to use, or to be afraid of approaching an unfamiliar staff member or administrator. GURUs provide real-time support and ensure a full resolution.

See 16 more best practices for supporting first-gen students


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