Engaging Families of First-generation College Students

Martina Martin Ph.D., University of Kentucky / The Center / November 08, 2019

University of Kentucky FF

Each academic year more and more first-generation college students (FGCS) arrive at college and face a number of challenges due to lower levels of academic and social integration. These challenges often lead to greater feelings of anxiety and worry not only for the students but for their parents and families as well. Not understanding how things “work”, places the families of first-generation students at a disadvantage.

Students often turn to their parents/guardians/families for information and questions about their college experience. A challenge to first-generation students is that their sources of information may not know where to go or what to do. To inform and engage our Wildcat families, it only made sense to connect and partner with our UK Parent & Family Association. In doing so, this opened the doors to additional campus-wide partnerships and the launch of a new program that benefited both first-generation and continuing generation student families.

University of Kentucky Parent Programming
Previous, first-generation student, parent and family initiatives included special first-gen editions of the monthly CatChat Online Newsletter; a Facebook Live CatChat Live, a 20-minute live video introducing first-generation student resources; a special First-Generation Scholar Living Learning Community Family Welcome; and the hosting of a resource table and snack packing event during the annual fall Parent & Family Weekend Events that included first-gen themed give-a-ways.

Through discussions with the Parent and Family Association and reviewing our past initiatives, we collectively noticed a gap in information throughout the summer months. We partnered together, again, to launch our first annual Family Follow-up. This program invited all families of incoming first-gen students who attended our summer orientation days. We were aware that students and families left those events with an overwhelming amount of information and still tons of remaining questions about their student’s first year at UK. Family members had the opportunity to watch four short videos clarifying important information about life at UK.

University of Kentucky Parent Programming 2
Themes for the inaugural Family Follow-up included Financial Aid & Scholarships, Academics 101, Student Belonging, and Student Well-being, each featuring campus partners from the respective areas. Each video was followed by a quick quiz that entered families into a drawing for prizes. Initially, we anticipated 40 families would take advantage of the online information, however we were shocked that our videos were viewed nearly 200 times in just a few short weeks, with Financial Aid & Scholarships being the most viewed at 199 times.

Knowing that first-generation college students are often unaware of the array of campus services (academic and social support) available to help them be successful as an undergraduate student, we needed a way to share information early and in a space where they could learn at their own pace. Now, those parents and families who were previously unable to assist their students in navigating the murky waters of college have additional resources available to them.

By equipping the parents and families with up-to-date information and knowledge we are bridging the information gap that may have existed, and fully embracing and educating first-generation families through this journey!