First-generation College Student Support through Intentional University Programming

Tracey Glaessgen, Ed.D. & Rabekah Stewart, Ph.D., Missouri State University / The Center / September 23, 2020

For many first-generation students, the prospect of navigating their way through college may be daunting. Institutions that have an intentional support system established for first-generation students can alleviate the stress and anxiety that they may encounter. At Missouri State, all first-time, new students with fewer than 24 credit hours post-high school are required to take a first-year seminar course, GEP 101: First-Year Foundations, which focuses on academic skill building, public affairs awareness, and campus resource connections. With approximately 32-34% of our incoming students who self-identify as first-generation, we designated GEP 101 sections for first-generation students with a college focus. Though these sections still have the same course goals, first-generation students have an opportunity to develop their learning cohort with other first-generation students. Since our initial pilot program in 2014, we have increased our number of sections as the fall-to-fall retention numbers continue to demonstrate that the gap between first-generation and continuing-generation students has decreased.

All students at Missouri State are required to meet with an academic advisor at least once per semester until they have completed 75 credit hours. Therefore we created a proactive advising program that calls for academic advisors to reach out to their assigned first-generation advisees four times throughout the semester. Rather than waiting for the student to contact their advisor, the advisor contacts the student and introduces themselves, while providing information on the role of the academic advisor and how students can benefit from the relationship. Participating advisors attend three dedicated workshops that focus upon sharing data on first-generation student retention, proactive advising strategies and methods, and an introduction to key campus resources. Since our initial pilot program in 2017 with one college, we have now expanded this proactive advising approach to three colleges, all of which have benefited first-generation students with increased retention.

Missouri State’s TRIO program has continuously served as a foundational program for supporting first-generation students. Whether offering cultural events, financial aid workshops, or advising, TRIO is dedicated to supporting students through to graduation. Additionally, because creating a sense of belonging is paramount to first-generation students’ success, TRIO has social events that serve as a way for students to establish a college identity.

Looking ahead to this academic year, Missouri State will, once again, participate in the National First-Generation College Celebration Day as a way to recognize first-generation students in a festive environment. Our first-generation students are getting ready to plan both social and academic support programs as part of the student organization, MSU I’m First. New for spring 2021, first-generation students can participate in a study away program that was specifically created to provide them with an opportunity to travel abroad to heighten their global awareness.

For more information on Missouri State University's approach, please visit their website here.