The importance of services for first-generation students

The Center for First-generation Student Success will soon release a landscape report on support and services for first-generation students at community and technical colleges.

The report will show there is not a standard definition for first-generation student populations, and that students do not always identify with the moniker and take advantage of resources, according to Sarah Whitley, senior director of the center, who last week addressed a joint virtual board meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees.

Whitley noted that faculty across the country felt strongly that outcomes for first-generation students are the result of structural challenges and not a reflection of the students’ desire or capability of success. She said that colleges without a specific program for first-generation students relied on academic advising to help prepare students for the college experience.

“It’s really about how we serve first-generation students,” Whitley said. “Sixty-four percent of community college students are first-generation, and we are committed to providing tools and resources to show how to support these students and how to scale that support to have the greatest impact.”

Noting that first-generation college students are critically important and are a growing population at nearly all institutions of higher education, Whitley said the center serves as the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators’ (NASPA) primary entity to increase the research, scholarship and effective practice supporting first-generation student success and to expand the number of institutions with evidence-based programs. NASPA President Kevin Kruger also spoke at the virtual meeting.

The center provides data that can help community colleges implement evidence-based practices to increase student success for this population, Whitley said. In addition to building communities and peer networks and providing professional development, the center researches and provides innovative and scaled solutions for first-generation students.

“We are really focused on helping colleges develop student-centered actionable outcomes. By building engaged communities and peer networks, community colleges can use data to implement programs and services that better serve this vulnerable population,” Whitley said.

Articles about previous AACC/ACCT joint board meetings this spring:

About the Author

Martha Parham
is senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.