Celebrating Four Years of Moving #FirstgenForward

The Center / June 14, 2021


For over a decade, Eric and Deb Suder devoted their time, talent, and resources to implementing a model of support that intentionally and dramatically advanced the outcomes of first-generation college students. A labor or love, the Suders understood that to realize their goal of national impact, a partner would be needed. After the quick realization of shared commitment and months of planning, the opportunity for a collaboration between The Suder Foundation and NASPA − Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education was realized. On June 14, 2017, NASPA and The Suder Foundation launched the Center for First-generation Student Success, and we now celebrate four years as the premier source of evidence-based practices, professional development, and knowledge creation for the higher education community to advance the success of first-generation students.

The past year presented incredible challenges for each of us, and our Center team knew our focus, approach, and offerings would need to shift quickly. We were also keenly aware that first-generation students would be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and the systemic racial injustice plaguing our country and that our work would be more important than ever. Practitioners and scholars needed the stability of a trusted resource and access to content and community to serve first-generation students in quick, creative, affordable and meaningful ways. Last year’s recap, "The Center Turns Three: A Year of Response," enumerates the many ways in which we developed resources to support the first-gen community. This year, we thought critically about how to create community, advance policy through advocacy, and strengthen professional development opportunities to meet unprecedented times. Below, we recap many of these efforts.

#CelebrateFirstGen

The 2020 First-Generation College Celebration was the largest to date! Even though celebrations were largely conducted virtually, there was significant activity across social platforms, which increased the visibility of the national event and brought increasing awareness to the first-gen identities and experiences of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The Center and the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) also awarded 31 grants to help create and scale celebrations. Continue to visit the First-Generation College Celebration page to access new resources and tools to support and grow celebrations.

#FirstgenScholarship

To advance evidence-based practices and scholarship, the Center became home to the inaugural Journal of First-generation Student Success. This Journal joins other publications of NASPA as a member benefit. The inaugural issue launched in late April and includes an introduction from co-editors Dr. Rashné Jehangir and Dr. Lindsay Romasanta, an interview with Dr. Arnold Mitchem and Maureen Hoyler, three research articles, and two notes from the field pieces. The Journal continues to accept submissions on a rolling basis, and the editors and editorial board remain interested in manuscripts that are innovative, imaginative, and forward-thinking regarding the experiences and outcomes of first-generation college students and the approaches institutions of higher education are employing to serve, matriculate, and graduate this population.

We were also keenly aware that first-generation students would be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and the systemic racial injustice plaguing our country and that our work would be more important than ever.

#CatalystFIRST

CatalystFIRST, the Center’s speaking engagement offering, is central to our Thought Leadership & Advocacy strategic priority and advances critical first-generation student success conversations through national convenings, advocacy, and policy influence. Since launching, CatalystFIRST has supported more than 40 events nationwide, and with the growing interest, we will expand our list of expert speakers soon. 

#AdvocateFirstgen

This year, advocacy and policy emerged as a focus area of the Center. In alignment with the NASPA Public Policy Agenda, the Center organizes its advocacy and policy work in three ways: raising awareness, engaging with public officials, and building partnerships. Additionally, we launched the #AdvocateFirstgen social awareness campaign, and we continue to release timely resources on the first Tuesday of each month. A review of these resources can be found here.

#ElevatePotential

The Center’s signature program, First Scholars, provides institutions of higher education with an ecosystem of opportunities, tools, resources, and expert guidance that results in institutional transformation and holistic student support with the common goal of advancing first-generation student outcomes. The First Scholars Network is composed of over 50 institutions divided into three cohorts. Each institution receives a personal, guided, data-informed experience underpinned by the First Scholars framework–core tenants and key components that result in institution-focused and student-centered actionable outcomes.

Practitioners and scholars needed the stability of a trusted resource and access to content and community to serve first-generation students in quick, creative, affordable and meaningful ways.

#FirstgenForward

First-gen Forward announced the 2021-22 cohort including 13 new advisory institutions. Collectively, there are 215 diverse institutions participating in First-gen Forward that represent 36 states. Through First-gen Forward, institutions gain access to a dedicated community of peer institutions all committed to advancing the success of first-generation students and participating in tailored professional development opportunities.

#FirstgenGraduates

Recently, we released the 2021 National Data Fact Sheets on first-generation college graduates with a focus on career and workforce preparation. Through generous support from the Crimsonbridge Foundation and a data partnership with RTI International, these fact sheets provide national statistics about first-generation college graduates’ transition to graduate school and employment in the first year after earning a bachelor’s degree. When considering how the statistics in these fact sheets may relate to the students at your institution, please read the footnotes for important information, including definitions of key terms and details about the data source.

#FGSS21

At the end of June, we will kick off the 2021 NASPA Virtual First-generation Student Success Conference as part of the 2021 NASPA Virtual Conferences on Student Success in Higher Education. Over 1,300 attendees will engage in education sessions, networking opportunities, a virtual exhibit hall, and addresses from a number of incredible speakers.

Looking #FirstgenForward

We remain grateful for the leadership and support of our Advocacy Group and Advisory Board, the many faculty and practitioners engaging daily with first-gen students, and the many first-gen students pursuing post-secondary education. Let’s continue to move #FirstgenForward!

If there are ways we could support you and your work, please reach out to us via email at first-gencenter@naspa.org.


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