Supporting Family Members of First-gen Students

Karen Smith, M.A. & Linda Campion, Ph.D., East Carolina University / The Center / October 20, 2021

Family members play a critical role in the success of students. Parental encouragement (with respect to education and general support of the college-going process) is in some ways more important to persistence than family income in shaping student success. First-generation students know their parents care about their accomplishments, but insufficient parental engagement can be a barrier to their success. First-generation students often receive lower levels of encouragement and support from family members. While they may support the dream of attending college, they will not have a compass by which to assist their student in navigating college. This could lead to frustration or apathy simply because they do not know how to assist their child.

Therefore, it is crucial that the institution provide parents and family members of these students resources and support. Institutions can offer support to parents by supplying cultural capital, providing financial resources, and giving basic encouragement. East Carolina University (ECU) has committed to create specific opportunities for family members of our first-generation students.

Since 2015, a breakout session called “Supporting Your First-Generation Pirate” has been offered during the New Student Orientation Family Program. The session strives to ensure the family members of our first-generation students feel welcome at ECU, know what to expect from their student in the transition to college, and become familiar with campus resources here to support their student.

It is crucial that the institution provide parents and family members of these students resources and support.

To continue communication with family members throughout a student’s time at ECU, the office of Parent and Family Programs uses an online portal system. This portal serves as a one-stop shop for parents and family members to stay informed and engaged with ECU. Through the portal, users can personalize their online experience to include personalized newsletters, email announcements from the university, and unique communities based on their needs and interests. Within the portal, a community has been created specifically for parent and family members of first-generation students. Our goal this year is to create content at least once a month that provides this missing cultural capital and share that with family members.

In addition, we offer activities on campus for family members that encourage their attendance. In the past, ECU has hosted an ice cream social that was held as part of the events during Family Weekend. The event was designed for family members and students to drop in and network with other first-generation students and family members, as well as faculty, staff, and administrators. We are making plans to continue a similar event in conjunction with Family Weekend events in the spring and/or fall once COVID-19 restrictions allow. Again, events such as these ensure that family members feel as welcome on ECU’s campus as their first-generation students!

Our goal is to engage family members of first-generation students to provide support which in turn assists in supporting our first-generation students on campus.

For more information on East Carolina University’s approach, please visit their website here.