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Committed to First-Generation College Students

Students pose for a photo during the first-generation student celebration day in the fall of 2019.

Furman was elected to join NASPA’s Center for First-generation Student Success’ inaugural cohort of First Scholars Network institutions for advancing the outcomes of first-generation students through improving both first-generation student success initiatives and institution-wide approaches.

“We are excited to join the First Scholars initiative because this recognition not only affirms the work the university has embarked upon to date in relation to first-generation student success but also opens up opportunities for data-sharing, programmatic collaboration and research initiatives to improve the national landscape of first-generation student access, retention and graduation,” said Neil Jamerson, assistant vice president for student development.

“First-generation students possess the academic acumen and individual talents necessary to improve our campuses; every effort should be made to remove institutional barriers that intentionally or unintentionally impede their progress toward graduation.”

Furman University joins 31 institutions in building upon already successful programmatic elements for broad scaling while creating systemic cultural shifts that address first-generation student success with intentionality. First Scholars aligns clearly defined, measurable goals with institutional data to identify gaps, track progress, and create systems allowing leadership to make informed choices resulting in improved student outcomes, strengthened enrollment management, collaborative programming and preservation of resources.

“The landscape of first-generation student initiatives is continually shifting alongside the ever-changing needs of our communities, nation and global society,” said Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “As part of the First Scholars Network, Furman University will become a key partner in driving systemic change and looking to the future of first-generation student success.”

Furman has accelerated its efforts to drive change on its campus over the past few years. The process began with an analysis of institutional data to identify barriers to student success. From that analysis flowed a number of initiatives and interventions to support our first-generation students. Communications around financial aid improved. Orientation offerings for students and their families were reimagined, and campus celebrations were organized for incoming first-gen students as well as first-gen graduating seniors.

The Center for Inclusive Communities provided these shirts to faculty and staff who were first-generation college graduates themselves (defined as those in which neither parent earned a four-year degree) and those who are not first-gen but still wanted to show their support. They were encouraged to wear their shirts on the first Friday of each month last fall.

Furman created campaigns to increase the visibility of faculty and staff who were first-generation graduates, and faculty gained more opportunities to learn how to incorporate inclusive approaches into mentoring, advising and teaching. Practical application of scholarly research on first-generation student success from Stanford and Northwestern was introduced into the Pathways curriculum. And, most recently, the First Generation Student Alliance was formed for peer-led initiatives.

“Nationally, roughly 60% of colleges collect information on whether students are first-generation, only 40% develop first-generation specific programs based on that data, and only 20% share the information with the faculty advisor,” Jamerson said. “At Furman we’re doing all three, and our graduation rate is three times the national average.”

First Scholars institutions will partner with the Center for a two-year experience that will provide:

  • Expert guidance and tailored resources converging to support institution-wide systemic transformation and provide on-time, first-generation thought-leader expertise;
  • An integrated framework that combines evidence-based and targeted solutions to propel institution-wide systemic transformation and confidently scale holistic student support across the academic career of first-generation students;
  • Robust inventory, assessment, and reporting structures focused on first-generation student support and institutional cultural shifts;
  • Scalable initiatives and programmatic toolkits customizable to the institution that address the immediate needs of administrators and practitioners; and,
  • Structured, cross-collaborative learning with institutional partners from across the higher education landscape.

“As part of the First Scholars Network, Furman is at the table with a strong network of higher education partners driving national change and advancing success outcomes for first-generation students” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA.

To learn more about first-generation efforts at Furman, contact firstgen@furman.edu. To learn more about First Scholars and the Center for First-generation Student Success, visit firstgen.naspa.org.

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