Center for First-generation
Student Success®

There are millions of past, current and future first-generation college students (first-gen) in the United States.
The Center for First-generation Student Success®
, created in a partnership between NASPA and
The Suder Foundation, exists to transform higher education to drive first-generation student success effectively and equitably across education, career, and life.

Meeting an Urgent Need

The Center's work has never been more urgent or needed:

  • Today, 1 in 2 undergraduates - nearly 5M students - identify as first-generation.
  • Compared to legacy student peers, first-gen students:
    • Have fewer financial resources ($41k median parental income vs. $90k).
    • Pursue college-level education at lower rates (72% vs. 93%).
    • Attain four-year degrees at lower rates (20% vs. 49%).
  • Median career earnings of a non-college graduate are $1M less than a college graduate.
  • First-gen student population will continue to grow rapidly in the coming years, as the pipeline of first-time undergraduates is heavily weighted with first-gen students.
  • Institutions of higher education must shift their mindsets and priorities to better serve first-gen students in order to survive, thrive, and meet their missions.
  • Addressing first-generation success has intergenerational impact, as successful college completion is a significant predictor of education, workforce and life success for the families of graduates.

5-Year Plan for Strategic Growth

Over the next five years the Center will expand its impact by growing the First Scholars Network to partner with 750 colleges & universities that collectively serve 6.4M students with nearly 2M identifying as first-generation college students . The goal is to advance first-generation graduation rates by 10-15% at First Scholars Network institutions.

To accomplish this, the Center will invest across four strategic priorities:

Grow the First Scholars Network by codifying the delivery model, evolving data collection andanalysis, providing expert guidance, and leading continuous improvement efforts.


Influence the broader field by developing and promoting original research; acting as a catalyst, thought leader, and convener for first-generation interests; and building engaged communities that foster and celebrate first-generation success.


Build internal capacity to execute this work by filling key staff positions, developing internal systems to support growth, and increasing fundraising capacity to sustain the work over time.


Transition to a long-term governance model that enables the Center to thrive for decades to come.

Financial Projections

Over the past decade, The Suder Foundation invested nearly $15M to capture methods and data to track and validate the performance of the First Scholars pilot program. The foundation then invested an additional $7.5M (through June 2022) to establish the Center, fund the first five years of Center infrastructure, and scale the development of First Scholars.

The Suder Foundation has pledged an additional $10M in high-risk capital to seed the growth phase of the Center over the next five years (beginning July 2022).

We have developed detailed projections to estimate
the financial resources required to meet our ambitious goals:

The overall cost of this five-year growth plan is $42M.


We anticipate $8.6M in earned income
over the course of the plan.


The remaining philanthropic need to support this five-year plan is $29M through 2027.


Our Origins

First Scholars® was established by The Suder Foundation in 2009 as a living laboratory across a group of eight carefully selected universities. Students were provided scholarships and surrounded by a network of support. After nearly a decade of measuring progress, the data confirmed our highest hopes: Compared to first-generation and legacy student peers, First Scholars students demonstrated significantly higher rates of:

Academic Performance

First Scholars GPAs averaged 3.1 in their first year across all institutions, while the GPAs of all first-time, full-time students and first-gen students averaged approximately 2.7 and 2.6 respectively. (NB: data derived from First Scholars students who were all selected to match mean average performance on entrance exams (ACT, SAT) for all incoming freshmen).


92% of First Scholars stayed for their second year of study. compared to an average rate of 68% for first-gen students, and 76% for all students across all institutions.


First Scholars' six-year graduation rate was 73%, and Scholars graduated in four years at a rate of 51%. This compared to the four-year graduation rates of 29% for first-gen students and 32% for first-time, full-time students across affiliated universities.

These results inspired us to do even bigger things. In 2017, the Center was launched to dramatically scale our impact and serve more students around the country.

The Center Today

The Center has evolved the original model into a new approach that prioritizes student outcomes and guides systemic changes for institutions to sustain and grow commitments to first-generation students.

Today, the Center provides expertise, training, and data to help higher education leaders better serve first-generation students. Our First Scholars model takes a holistic approach that elevates self, success, and significance for first-gen students by providing comprehensive, strengths-based support and assistance to improve academic, personal, and professional outcomes. Importantly, the model also builds a framework for institutions to scale and sustain support for students.

The First Scholars Network provides continuous support to institutions of higher education (IHEs) through tools, resources, and expert guidance, including:

  • Peer Networks
    Participating IHEs gain access to cohort-based learning across a growing Network of committed institutions.
  • Diagnostics & Data
    Through diagnostic tools and ongoing data analytics, IHEs assess and strengthen approaches for advancing first-gen outcomes.
  • Evidence-Driven Approaches
    IHEs receive tailored content, tools, and resources through monthly workshops that build institutional infrastructure for sustaining commitment.
  • Expert Guidance
    IHEs partner with Expert Guides to address specific needs.
  • Data-Driven Continuous Improvement
    First Scholars instills the principles of implementation science to drive sustainable results at higher education institutions.

To date, the Center has partnered with 270+ higher education institutions serving 1.5M+ undergraduate students, including 500k+ first-gen students.


Our Mission

Transforming higher education to drive first-generation student success effectively and equitably across education, career, and life.