First Scholars Network:
A National Scaling Model

Powered by the Center for First-generation Student Success, the First Scholars Network offers a national model for scaling holistic first-generation student success by engaging and empowering institutions of higher education to radically transform the first-generation student experience, advance academic and co-curricular outcomes, and build more inclusive institutional structures.

The First Scholars Network is a journey for institutions of higher education who serves as the backbone for this national scaling model, bringing together higher education leaders from around the country to share data, model innovations, and scale impact to first-gen student support. 

Today’s higher education landscape seeks intentional change to dismantle systemic barriers limiting students’ ability to succeed and thrive. With over one-third of currently enrolled undergraduate students identifying as first-generation, institution leaders increasingly prioritize first-generation success as imperative to their overall institutional success. Progression through the First Scholars Network positions institutions to navigate the challenge of a shrinking consumer base while supporting the build-out of retention resources to protect return on investment.

The future is first-gen and we have a commitment to growing the First Scholars Network to over 700 institutions in the next five years.

Join us and let’s get started.

First Scholars and First-gen Forward are a registered trademarks. All materials are proprietary and may not be reproduced.

First Scholars Network of Institutions

A community of institutional partners committed to transforming the higher education landscape in ways that elevate potential and advance outcomes for first-generation students today and in the future. Through a number of engagement opportunities, the Network maximizes learning opportunities across a broad, diverse, ever-expanding set of institutions.

First Scholars Institutions Map 2023

Network Member

Institutions must apply to join the First Scholars Network as a First Scholars Network Member. During the first year of active engagement in the First Scholars Network, Network Member institutions commit to building a foundational understanding of first-generation student success through participating in monthly workshops, networking and professional development opportunities, sharing knowledge and resources, and contributing to a peer community. An institution may advance to the next phase, First-gen Forward, upon successful completion of the Network Member requirements.  

The ultimate goal for Network Member institutions is to progress through the phases and achieve First Scholars Champion Campus status.

First-gen Forward

The second phase in the First Scholars Network, First-gen Forward convenes institutions with a demonstrated commitment to advancing first-generation student success. Building upon the Network Member year, First-gen Forward institutions engage in regionally-based community meetings, networking and professional development, and share knowledge as leaders in this important work. Through active engagement and meeting annual requirements, First-gen Forward institutions maintain status within this phase of the First Scholars Network. First-gen Forward institutions in good status are also eligible to advance to Phase Three: First Scholars as a sign of preparedness for institutional transformation.

First Scholars

First Scholars is the third phase of the First Scholars Network and serves as the Center’s customized approach to intentional institutional transformation in an effort to advance student outcomes. Our work establishes an environment where direct student supports can be established, scaled, and sustained. When a first-generation student attends an institution that is developed with them in mind, and has appropriate supports and resources, outcomes will improve.

Benefits of participation in First Scholars include an evidence-based and research-supported framework of actionable priorities supported through intentional and relevant monthly workshops; access to the First Scholars Leadership Academy, diagnostic tools providing critical institutional insight; robust data sharing as part of the national Postsecondary Data Partnership; guidance of expert coaches along each step of the experience; and customized solutions and continuous improvement plans personalized to allow each institution to meet its first-generation student success goals.

Upon meeting milestones in the First Scholars phase, institutions are eligible to earn the Champion Campus designation.

First Scholars Network institutions are eligible to apply once the Network Member phase is complete and they have advanced to the First-gen Forward phase. Once selected for First Scholars, an institution commits to a multi-year experience that requires presidential and financial support for a leadership team to focus on improving institutional cultures and systems at scale. 

First Scholars Champion Campus

Once completing the requirements of the First Scholars phase, institutions receive the Champion Campus designation and enter the fourth phase of the Network. A Champion Campus serves as a national leader in advancing first-generation efforts and contributes to an important knowledge base on evidence-based practices, leadership engagement, and scaling supports. 

To maintain the Champion Campus designation, institutions must meet annual requirements, serve as a Network mentor, and remain active in the Postsecondary Data Partnership. Each Champion Campus receives regular professional development, access to resources, and engagement with Expert Guides. As a benefit, those in the Champion Campus phase have access to innovation grants, discounted conference attendance, and more. 

The Center is currently serving 50+ institutions in the First Scholars phase in preparation for advancement to Champion Campus designation in early 2024. 


Eligibility to join the First Scholars Network through the first phase of Network Member includes:
  • Secure cabinet-level leadership support and commitment to participation;

  • Designate an institution Leadership Team

Each phase of the Network has unique eligibility and programmatic requirements that are detailed in those sections.


For over a decade, The Suder Foundation generously provided scholarship funds to support the holistic success of first-generation college students at select institutions. In partnership with scholarship funds, students also participated in the original First Scholars comprehensive, cohort-based model designed to provide holistic student support services across their academic career and to prepare them for success post-completion. First Scholars® has evolved to more closely align with the transformational vision of its founders, Eric and Deborah Suder, who have devoted their life’s work to driving systemic innovation for first-generation students.

The First Scholars Network fulfills that vision by creating a multi-faceted approach to student success on a nationally scalable level. With the Center for First-generation Student Success® (Center) opening in June 2017, the First Scholars Network now serves as  the Center’s signature scaling model and the first-of-its-kind specific to the first-generation population.

Contact Us

The next application cycle for Network Member will begin in early 2024. Learn more about program details and requirements of the first phase:
First Scholars Network Member

We invite you to utilize the Center's resources, follow us on social media @FirstgenCenter, and reach out at [email protected] with other questions. Thanks for your commitment to serving first-generation students! 

Complete the Interst Form below to receive the updates on the application process:
First Scholars Network Interest Form