Join the First Scholars Network!
Become a Network Member to transform your institution for first-gen student success.
First Scholars Network Member logo

2023: The Year in #AdvocateFirstgen

The Center / December 05, 2023


Hand holding up with sign with purple handwritten text reading

As 2023 comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the policy issues that affected first-generation college students and the Center’s efforts to advocate on their behalf over the past year.

The End of Race-Conscious Admissions

Arguably the most significant policy issue in 2023 is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, which deemed race-conscious admissions in higher education unconstitutional. This decision will have a significant impact on admissions and potentially other practices in the future.

The decision left many institutions struggling to reimagine recruitment and admissions strategies that foster diversity and inclusion for students who have been historically excluded from higher education. The use of the descriptor “first-generation” rose in frequency to mitigate the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision. However, using “first-generation” as a blanket eligibility criteria for programs and services that are not tailored to first-generation students is inappropriate. Higher education institutions must develop alternative strategies for cultivating racially diverse environments and continue offering equity-centered programming to support retention, persistence, and degree attainment for all students who need it most.

As we look ahead to 2024, we will continue to #AdvocateFirstgen with a broad focus on issues that affect the intersectional identities of first-generation college students.

Launching an Issue Brief Series

To provide resources for advocacy efforts on behalf of first-generation college students, the Center launched its Issue Brief series in 2023. The first issue brief focused on ways to improve access to higher education for first-generation students, while the second outlined how higher education institutions can develop environments to improve retention and completion for first-generation students. 

Forging National Advocacy Partnerships

Mother working at laptop while holding baby
The Center continues to join national advocacy partnerships—with a greater focus on identifying broader legislative efforts that intersect with first-generation student identities. In coordination with our partners in the Today’s Students Coalition and their parent organization, Higher Learning Advocates, the Center:

Joining National Advocacy Campaigns

The Center promoted participation in two national advocacy campaigns to its First Scholars Network of 349 institutions in 49 states. The Widen the Path campaign elevates trailblazers in creating policy change for students returning to higher education, and the #LetStudentsEat campaign highlights college student food insecurity and advocates for changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  

In partnership with over 100 members of the #DoublePell Alliance, the Center joined a letter requesting that Congress double the maximum Federal Pell Grant in the FY24 appropriations bill.

In partnership with the Institute for Higher Education Policy and other higher education partners, the Center joined a letter of support for the College Transparency Act, which provides students and families more complete information about student outcomes.

Food Pantry Box
Publishing Monthly #AdvocateFirstgen Blogs

The Center’s advocacy blog, using the hashtag #AdvocateFirstgen, outlined three steps to advocate for mentoring programs to support first-generation students (January 2023); called for demystifying the FAFSA following reports of unclaimed federal Pell Grant funding in 2022 (February 2023); featured a guest blog by Center Advocacy Group member James Whitney on advocacy through universal design (March 2023); highlighted the vital role community and technical colleges play in the higher education ecosystem in coordination with Community College Month (April 2023); leveraged Mental Health awareness month to urge action on existing measures that increase funding for wellness initiatives (May 2023); and advocated for comments to the Department of Education on the gainful employment rule to protect students from higher levels of debt and low earnings from specific credential programs (June 2023); analyzed the Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College U.S. Supreme Court decision (August 2023); revisited the legacy admissions debate in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on race-conscious admission practices (September 2023); highlighted college student food insecurity (October 2023); and explained the Center’s first issue brief on improving access to higher education for first-generation college students (November 2023).

Looking Forward

The Center’s advocacy efforts covered many topics of importance to first-generation students. As we look ahead to 2024, we will continue to #AdvocateFirstgen with a broad focus on issues that affect the intersectional identities of first-generation college students.


What advocacy efforts did you undertake for first-generation college students in 2023 and how will you build on your successes in 2024? Let us know by tagging us @FirstgenCenter on social media and using #AdvocateFirstgen!