First-generation Students at Governors State University

Lisa Carra, Governors State University / The Center / April 20, 2022

As a Minority-Serving Institution, Governors State University (GSU) averages between 35-40% first-generation students, who sometimes require more resources to navigate complicated university life and systems.

GSU’s Gaining Enrichment through Educational Readiness (GEER) program helps fill in a vital gap of resources for first-generation students who need them the most to obtain a four-year degree. It’s designed for the benefit of students from low-income backgrounds and those underrepresented or historically marginalized. The effort started as a federal and state grant-funded initiative to help knock down barriers created by the COVID-19 pandemic for GSU’s student population, which has traditionally included a high portion of first-generation students. Of the 1,500 first generation GSU students, 500 have received GEER grants.

One of those students, Aja Parker, said GSU’s efforts to support first-generation students like her has made all the difference in her journey to secure a degree in counseling.

Among other benefits, Aja received financial assistance offered through the program. Many of the program participants, Aja included, report that lack of financial resources is a major obstacle to achieving educational goals. The GEER grant took a little pressure off, she said, and “really relieved a financial burden that many first-generation students face.”

Usually there aren’t any savings from the family to help you get through school, so you come in with all these student loans. But last semester because of GEER, I was able to go through school without having to borrow money. It was a blessing.

Beyond the financial support, Aja said the program advisors are invaluable—always willing to help answer students’ questions, which is important for first-gen students who haven’t had to navigate financial aid and registrar lingo.

Students also receive a laptop and Wi-Fi subsidies and help in obtaining expensive textbooks and course materials. Aja said she is grateful for every little bit to move her forward. “I just keep striving to do more.” she said. Now that someone has helped Asia along, she said she looks forward to being a role model for her nieces and nephews after she graduates in May 2022.

The GEER program is just one way the Governors State University works to support first-generation students. On November 11, 2021, GSU held its inaugural celebration for these pioneering students.

“First Generation Celebration” was not only an opportunity for networking and socializing but also a chance for students to learn about the challenges faculty and staff members—many of whom were first-generation themselves—faced in college and how they overcame them. Faculty and staff pledged to remember what life was like when they started college, empathizing with first-generation students while promising to support them. Meanwhile students pledged to work their hardest and ask for help when needed.

GSU’s efforts to continue reaching out to this special group of students remains a core value of the university and will endure.

For more information on Governors State University’s approach, please visit their website here.