First-Generation College Students

What is a first-generation college student? Institutions define “first generation” in various ways.  However, the Center for First-Generation Student Success states that “ultimately, the term “first-generation” implies the possibility that a student may lack the critical cultural capital necessary for college success because their parents did not attend college” (2020).

It is significant to recognize that first-generation students are an important part of our university community and are both driven and tenacious. First-generation students have unique needs. For example, first-generation students tend to struggle more than continuing generation students with:

  • Knowing how and how much to study
  • Understanding implicit faculty expectations
  • Finding time to study
  • Fear of asking questions or hesitance to approach an instructor 

These struggles can be compounded in an online learning environment. However, there are things you can do in your courses to increase the success of first-generation students. You do not need to identify these students specifically. These recommendations can benefit all students. 

What Strategies Can We Implement in Our Courses?

First, be explicit in the expectations you have for your students. Syllabi should include clear statements about what resources are required and that help seeking is expected and encouraged. 

For every assignment you create, consider the task, purpose, and criteria.

  • what, exactly, are you asking students to do (the “task”);
  • why do the students have to do it (the “purpose”);
  • and how the work will be evaluated (the “criteria”).

Then, explain those things to your students.  (Berrett, 2015)

Be familiar with the University of Canterbury’s psycho-social and academic support resources so that you can refer students appropriately. For instance, those listed here: Finding Support.

Provide information on how students can become connected on campus through major-related organizations, honors societies, undergraduate research opportunities, and social events. Students who feel more connected to their university are more likely to graduate, and it is particularly important for first-generation students to build a network that allows them access to information about tertiary education. 

Finally, reach out to the e-Learning Support team for assistance with student-centered course design and engagement in your online, hybrid, and technology enhanced courses.  

References

Berrett, D. (2015, September 25). The unwritten rules of college. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 62(4). 

Center for First-Generation Student Success (2020). Defining first-generation. Retrieved from: https://firstgen.naspa.org/blog/defining-first-generation

Acknowledgement: I would like to acknowledge the First Scholars Program at the University of Memphis where I received training and support as a First Generation Faculty Advocate. 

 

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