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Sarah E. Whitley, Ph.D.

Vice President, Center for First-generation Student Success, NASPA


Bio: Sarah Whitley

Dr. Sarah E. Whitley has served as vice president of the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation, since its founding in 2017. Her leadership has positioned the Center as the premier source for data, training, and expertise around first-generation student success and created a network of colleges and universities across the country working to scale and sustain the important work of serving first-generation students.

As the leader of the Center, Dr. Whitley has authored several widely-referenced reports on first-generation students, including two acclaimed landscape studies and fact sheets with national data about first-generation students. She also oversaw the creation of the Journal for First-generation Student Success, the first academic peer-reviewed journal with a specific focus on first-generation student experiences and outcomes.

A frequent speaker and author of numerous scholarly works on topics related to first-generation students, Dr. Whitley’s work focuses on issues of inequality, academic motivation and decision-making, teaching and learning, the experiences and outcomes of first-generation students, and university presidency and board governance.

A proud first-generation college graduate, Dr. Whitley earned a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development, an M.Ed. in college student personnel administration from James Madison University, and a B.S. in political science from Longwood College. From 2007 - 2013, she served as director of First-Year Experience and Family Programs at Longwood University.

Dr. Whitley currently resides in Virginia with her partner, Sarah, three children, Bennett, Caroline, and Emerson, and her dog, Charlotte.


If you are interested in having a first-generation student success speaker for a meeting or event, please submit a Speaker Request.