Building a First Generation College Student Friendly Campus

Yolanda Norman - @FirstGenCollege  

Hello #EMchat Family!

Reasearch, research, research....that's pretty much my life right now and I'm loving every moment of it. Recently I was asked what recommendations I have for making a campus First Generation College Student friendly. I have tons of recommendations, but to make sure you don't spend hours reading all of the research I've done, let me try to sum it up for you.

  • Define It: Your campus has to have a clear definition of the term "first generation college student". There are a number of different definitions out there and your campus has to decide on one so that you know exactly who you are trying to help. My campus decided to go with the definition used by the U.S. Department of Education as mentioned in the TRIO grant program. We define #firstgen students as any student whose parents don't have a bachelor's degree.
  • Spread the Word, and the Love too:  Once you define it, share it with the campus...especially the first generation college students. This very important act allows a sense of belonging among so many firstgen and creates a sense of ownership for them. Each office on your campus can get in on spreading the word and moving this group from  "invisible" to "visible"!
  • Involve The Family: In a post I wrote last year, I talked about our efforts with families of firstgen and the important of making sure the student feels supported by those that are closest to them. From the beginning of admitting the student, to orientation, to choosing a major, and preparing for graduation, involving the families of this group of students is a must!
  • No Networking: Instead of the idea of teaching our students to network, some of my students "hate" that very word and feel like it's a fake way of getting something out of someone else. Teach them to "connect" instead. Those personal connections with other students (firstgen and non-firstgen alike), faculty, and staff helps with persistence. Remember, we are trying to counteract the "imposter syndrome" and remind these students that they deserve to be on campus and connecting with the university community is an important part.
  • Assessment: If you want to know if your efforts are working you have to assess it and put some quantifiable numbers on paper. Working with my Institutional Assessment office has been the greatest opportunity ever. These people are geniuses at what they do and the amount of information they can compare and help you think about is incredible. Tracking the progress of firstgens on your campus will help us all out as we look to fully support this growing population of students.

That's it! That's a pretty quick summary (I hope) of some things you can do to get started. If you are interested in learning more, follow me on Twitter (@firstgencollege) and let me know how I can be of service to your campus.