Study planned on first-generation students

Sarah Whitley (right), director of the Center for First Generation Student Success, discusses the center's new study at the AACC annual convention. (Photo: Ellie Ashford)

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Center for First Generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the Suder Foundation, is launching a major study of first-generation students in community colleges.

The center’s director, Sarah Whitley, described the study’s goals during a session Saturday at the the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) annual convention.

The project is an outgrowth of a similar study the center recently published on first-generation students in four-year colleges. That initiative resulted in robust scholarly and media databases on efforts to help first-generation students succeed in college, Whitley said.

Best practices

The new study will examine how two-year institutions are serving first-generation students; what challenges they encounter; and how first-generation students perceive their institutional experience. It will be carried out in partnership with AACC and Achieving the Dream.

The report is expected to offer evidence-based solutions to the challenges colleges face, recommendations for college leaders and recommendations for systemic change in higher education, Whitley said.

The center will conduct 60-minute phone or video interviews with faculty and staff, 60-minute videos with focus groups of four to six first-generation students and online surveys on how specific colleges are serving this population.

The study is expected to provide insight on how to navigate “intersectional” issues with first-generation students, such as income, race and culture, and whether these students are working or caring for family members.

To participate in the interviews or suggest students for focus groups, email:

Recognizing college success

Community colleges are far ahead of other institutions of higher education in thinking about the needs of first-generation students, Whitley said.

The center has a new First Forward national recognition program for community colleges “with a real commitment to first-generation students,” she said. It will announce in May the three colleges selected for the first cohort in the program. Applications for a second cohort of 75 community colleges will open in the fall.

The center hopes to build peer networks to help college leaders share ideas on how best to serve first-generation students.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.