First Scholars

Powered by the Center for First-generation Student Success, First Scholars is the 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.


Through a phased approach, designed to scaffold learning and achievement of institutions over time, First Scholars provides institutions with the opportunity to engage in student-centered, systemic transformation through an ecosystem of resources. We provide an evidence-based and research-supported framework of actionable priorities supported through intentional and relevant monthly workshops, diagnostic tools providing critical institutional insight, a host of customized solutions, continuous improvement cycles, robust data sharing and reporting, and the personalized guidance of expert coaches along each step of the experience. The First Scholars Network, composed of institutions of higher education who are active First Scholars participants, 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. Elevating the demonstrated potential of first-generation students is the key to innovating and scaling student success at your institution. 


Today’s higher education landscape is primed for intentional change intended 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 are increasingly prioritizing first-generation success as imperative to their overall institutional success. Through First Scholars, institutions will be poised to face the challenge of a shrinking consumer base, and the loss of return on investment when students are not retained.


Transform your institution with first-generation student success. Let’s get started.


First Scholars is a registered trademark of NASPA and the Center for First-generation Student Success. All materials are proprietary and may not be reproduced.

First Scholars: A National Scaling Model

Four arrows leading into each other and white icons. Phase I arrow in black with a circle with 4 puzzle pieces. Phase II in blue uses a three bar graphic image. Phase III in green shows a lightbulb. Phase IV in yellow shows a person climbing steps.

Phase I: First Scholars Phase I (First-gen Forward) formalizes institutional commitment to build a foundational understanding of first-generation student success through peer networking, shared knowledge and resources, and establishing community.

FS Designation Recognition Award Icon of a gold ribbon with a center star signifying the earning of a designation or recognition upon phase completion.   First-gen Forward Designation earned upon completion of Phase I.

Phase II: First Scholars Phase II focuses on establishing key approaches to advancing first-generation efforts, utilizing diagnostics to establish sustainable institutional infrastructure, and identifying data-informed goals in alignment with desired outcomes.
Phase III: First Scholars Phase III supports institutions through implementing and scaling goals through continuous improvement and creating a reflexive environment for growth and innovation.

FS Designation Recognition Award Icon of a gold ribbon with a center star signifying the earning of a designation or recognition upon phase completion.  First Scholars Elevate Recognition earned upon completion of Phase III.

Phase IV: First Scholars Phase IV positions first-generation friendly institutions to elevate institutional successes via iterative continuous improvement, and to network with other transformative institutions nationally.


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, this network will maximize learning opportunities across a broad, diverse, ever-expanding set of institutions.


First Scholars Network of Institution Directory 


First Scholars Institutional Map showing 277 institutions and 40 states represented

First-gen Forward Designation

The Center for First-generation Student Success launched in June 2017, with the mission of being the premier source of evidence-based practices, professional development, and knowledge creation for the higher education community to advance the success of first-generation students. In continuing this mission, the Center launched First-gen Forward, the nation's first recognition program acknowledging higher education institutions for their commitment to first-generation student success.

First Scholars is excited to welcome the First-gen Forward Designation as part of the First Scholars experience. The First-gen Forward designation is earned upon successful compleition of Phase I of First Scholars. 

Learn more about First-gen Forward





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 is poised to become the Center’s signature scaling model and the first-of-its-kind specific to the first-generation population.

In 2022, the Center introduced a new phased approach designed to scaffold learning and prepare institutions to advance first-generation academic and co-curricular outcomes. This reimagined model will provide a streamlined experience for any institution committed to scaling first-generation student success.

First Scholar Elevate Potential Full Color

Contact Us

We invite you to submit the Interest Form below so we can stay connected with updates and ways to engage with First Scholars and the Center for First-generation Student Success look forward to inviting institutions into First Scholars in January 2024. Informational Interest Meetings and application materials will be available in Summer 2023. In the meantime, we invite you to submit the Interest Form below so we can stay connected with updates and additional ways to engage with the Center for First-generation Student Success.

First Scholars Interest Form