Gen-1: Blaze a Trail at the University of Cincinnati

Suzette D. Combs, University of Cincinnati / The Center / March 28, 2018

Gen-1 Blaze a Trail

UC’s Gen-1 Program, which opened in September 2008, is designed to support the transition of first-generation (neither parent completed a college degree), low-income (as defined by Pell-eligibility) youth from high school to college. Financial and social constraints often plague first-generation, low-income students throughout their academic career, and so Gen-1 continues to support, albeit at a lower level, our upper-class students.

Gen-1 requires likely commuters to commit to a year-long on-campus residence in the Gen-1 House for their entire freshman year. This is a necessary, critical first step to full immersion in college and academic life, and creates 24/7 support. Residents are not simply accessing selected services as needed; they are living the ‘support experience’. Gen-1 students are part of a community in which like-minded residents support each other on a daily basis, and they benefit from the full-time attention of a director, assistant director and educational advisor, as well as 24/7 access to on-site resident advisors.

Programming in UC’s Gen-1 encompasses purposeful planning around four pillars: Live, Learn, Give and Earn. The contract outlines a prescribed minimum of experiences under each pillar, some of which are pre-arranged and facilitated by Gen-1 staff, and some of which are at the students’ discretion. The focus of Gen-1 is academics. The contract terms and pillar experiences are designed to promote academic success and progress toward a degree.

The Gen-1 Program includes the following:

  • A contract outlining expectations and commitments
  • An orderly, safe, and structured living/learning environment
  • Emphasis on academic success (quiet hours, study/tutoring sessions, academic monitoring, and recognition ceremonies)
  • A deep sense of community supported by Gen-1 activities/events, meals, meetings, and programs
  • Proactive (intrusive!) advising
  • Scholarships to help defray housing and meal plan costs for residential students, and a general scholarship for non-residential students
  • A first semester (2-credit hour) and second semester (1-credit hour) freshman course
  • A 3-credit hour sophomore course focusing on career readiness, followed by a for-credit internship

Evidence of the effectiveness UC’s Gen-1 Program is reflected in first to second year retention rates and graduation rates compared to nationwide rates of low-income, first-generation college students. Retention rates have held relatively steady and graduation rates have improved dramatically.

Ohio reports six-year graduation rates, so with Gen-1’s 2008 start, we have only had graduation rates measured since 2014. Seventy-eight Gen-1 students have earned a bachelor’s degree, with 35 slated for graduation this year. With each graduation, we celebrate the lives of the hard-working young people who have overcome enormous challenges and persevered to change the trajectory of their lives.


During the 2018 Convening on First-generation Student Success Suzette Combs, director of the University of Cincinnati’s Gen-1 Program, shared from insights: