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Faculty & Staff Development Readings: First Gen College Student Success

Resource guides on subjects that support the work of faculty.


Approximately 25% of Transylvania's students are considered first generation.  TU defines first generation as neither parent having attended college.  See the Office of Institutional Research for more information.

General Resources

Series of articles on First Gen students from the Chronicle.

List of articles from University of Michigan on First Generation Students.

Snell, Theron P. "First-generation Students, Social Class, and Literacy." Academe. 94.4 (2008): 28-31.

"The author works as an academic adviser and adjunct instructor at a small, public, four-year university that provides the usual spread of bachelor's degree programs, as well as several master's degrees. He has done similar work at a private liberal arts college and at a branch campus of a large state school. He brings to this work not only a PhD in American studies but also experience teaching English in a Colombian high school for two years and teaching English as a second language in a language institute in Bogota, Colombia, for a year. At each of the U.S. institutions at which he has worked, administrators and faculty alike have worried about and studied first-generation college students, looking at specific academic and social challenges these students face and how best to ensure student success. In this article, the author looks at this concern about first-generation students from the perspective he has gained from working at a smaller, regional university and from teaching cross-culturally. Although faculty members and administrators invoke first-generation status to explain many of the academic problems they perceive, his experience suggests that social class and local social environment, particularly their respective effects on literacy, are just as crucial indicators of success. Class, in fact, may act as a multiplier to first-generation status."

Pyne, K.B, and D.R Means. "Underrepresented and In/visible: a Hispanic First-Generation Student's Narratives of College." Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. 6.3 (2013): 186-198.

"Despite improvements in the rates of college admission over the past few decades, college persistence, retention, and graduation rates continue to be problematic for underrepresented students—students of color and students from low-income and/or first-generation families. This article presents a case study of a female, first-generation, low-income Hispanic student during her 1st year at a highly selective, private, predominantly White university. Drawing on critical race theory and qualitative research methodologies, it explores and understands key incidents prior to matriculation and throughout 2 semesters, focusing on those connected to racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic identities, as well as social and academic interactions and relationships. It recenters discussion on the lived experiences and insider’s perspectives of a historically marginalized student, stories often omitted from the research or hidden within the broader statistics on success and failure. Using the metaphor of invisibility/visibility to capture ongoing tensions, it highlights her strategies for success while deconstructing the subtle social and institutional discourses that work against her and create hidden stress, struggle, and doubt. It paints a complex portrait of what “success” may look like for such students in our current higher educational spaces."  (journal abstract)

Hand, Christie, and Emily Miller Payne. "First-Generation College Students: A Study Of Appalachian Student Success." Journal Of Developmental Education 32.1 (2008): 4-15.

First generation students represent a crucial population in institutions of higher education. Often considered "at-risk" in academic persistence and retention discussions, these students present both a challenge and opportunity to postsecondary education. This study focuses on a subgroup of first generation students, those from Appalachia, and the factors contributing to their academic persistence. The participants were students from the Student Support Services program at a major Appalachian university. The phenomenological method was employed, enabling the themes to flow from the data rather than being presupposed by the researcher. The themes (factors) emerging from the students ' experiences were the importance of home culture and family, financial concerns, significance of an internal locus of control, relationships and emotional support, and communication of information. Each of these has shown a definite impact on the students' academic persistence. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

Ishitani, Terry T. "Studying Attrition And Degree Completion Behavior Among First-Generation College Students In The United States." Journal Of Higher Education 77.5 (2006): 861-885.

The article presents a research study concerning college degree completion among college students. The researchers looked first generation students in particular. A number of factors, including rank in their high school classes; educational level of their parents; types of financial aid awarded; participation in work-study programs; and income levels affected the likelihood of graduation. The researchers also examined how ethnicity affected college completion rates. Students who attended private colleges and universities and those who had higher family income levels as well as those who received grants rather than loans had higher rates of graduation.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Students Whose Parents Did Not Go to College: Postsecondary Access, Persistence, and Attainment, NCES 2001–126, by Susan Choy. Washington, DC: 2001.

Williams, C. R., & Butler, S. K. A new retention variable: Hope and first generation college students. Ideas and Research You Can Use: VISTAS 2010.  (2010).

Programs - 1vyG is an organization that strengthens and empowers the first-generation college student network by convening communities of students and administrators, sharing and building best practices of support, and advocating for change.

Arizona Western College Upward Bound Program - "We are a federally funded educational program, designed to increase the academic skills and motivational levels of low-income and/or first-generation college students to the extent that they will complete high school and successfully enter a postsecondary educational program and graduate."

Dalton, Donna, Carol A. Moore, and Robert Whittaker. "First-generation, Low-Income Students: Strategies for Success at Lyndon State College." New England Journal of Higher Education. 23.5 (2009): 26-27.

"Lyndon State College is a small, four-year public college in the rural Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. In an effort to improve its first-year retention rate, two years ago the authors began to analyze which students return to Lyndon for their second year of college. They found that more than 60% of the students were first-generation college students and more than 30% were both first-generation and low-income (FGLI) based on Pell eligibility. With further analysis, they found the first- to second-year retention rate for FGLI students was 54%, compared with 60% for the rest of the population. With a $100,000 year-long Project Compass planning grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the authors established a task force to collect data and identify strategies for improving the success of FGLI students. Funded by the foundation and managed by the New England Resource Center for Higher Education, Project Compass aims to help a select group of public New England colleges and universities improve the success rate of their most underserved students. Project Compass is guided by the premise that by developing systemic initiatives to increase the retention rates of the most underserved students, colleges can increase the chance of success for all students. In this article, the authors list the strategies for success at Lyndon State College."

Gose, Ben. "At Hamilton College, Top Administrators Were Themselves First-Generation Students." Chronicle Of Higher Education 61.36 (2015): 1-4.

Hamilton College gives special consideration to students who break family barriers by pursuing a higher education.
More on Hamilton's First In the Family, First Year Forward programs

Gose, Ben. "At Illinois College, A Fellowship Helps Students Succeed." Chronicle Of Higher Education 61.36 (2015): 1-4.

The program begins with a summer session for incoming freshmen and continues with special classes and social opportunities.
More on the Yates Fellowship Program at Illinois College

I'm First - A list of colleges and database of stats organized by the Center for Student Opportunity (CSO), a national nonprofit based in Bethesda, Md. that works to empower first-generation college students on the path to and through college.   I’m First! ( is an an online campaign celebrating first-generation college students and web application designed to help aspiring first-generation college students research and plan for college. More on the College Partners and how to apply to be one.

Inkelas, Karen Kurotsuchi, et al. "Living–Learning Programs And First-Generation College Students’ Academic And Social Transition To College." Research In Higher Education 48.4 (2007): 403-434.

This study examines the role of living–learning (L/L) programs in facilitating first generation students’ perceived academic and social transition to college. Using a sample of 1,335 first generation students from 33 4-year institutions who participated in the National Study of Living–Learning Programs during Spring 2004, the results of the study show that first-generation students in L/L programs reported a more successful academic and social transition to college than their first-generation counterparts living in a traditional residence hall setting. In addition, interactions with faculty members and using residence hall resources facilitated an easier academic transition for first-generation students in L/L programs, and supportive residence hall climates were related to an easier social transition. A preliminary interpretation of this study’s results is that structured activities, such as faculty interaction and residence hall programming, are more influential for this population than informal peer groups.

Lewis & Clark Great Expectations

PETTY, TANJULA. "Motivating First-Generation Students To Academic Success And College Completion." College Student Journal 48.1 (2014): 133-140.

"Institutions play an important role in motivating students by understanding intrinsic and extrinsic factors that motivate students to remain in college. Postsecondary institutions should provide a range of programs to help these students face their challenges and weaknesses. Colleges and universities should escalate the process of creating bridge programs that link higher education to secondary education. These experiences provide academic and social pathways that assist first generation students overcome inadequate preparation for college. It is recommended using creative approaches to motivate students, such as field trips, presentations by other first generation college students, and collaborative planning for transition could benefit this population of students." [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

Transy's Trailblazers workshop, June 2013: Faculty Workshop on support systems to enhance academic success among all students from underrepresented groups.

If you do a search for "first generation" in the linked notes you'll see in the discussion notes that we did talk briefly about first gen students.

TUCKER, GERI COLEMAN. "First Generation." Diverse: Issues In Higher Education (2014): 24-28.

The article discusses how first generation students in U.S. colleges and universities offer academic and moral assistance to peers particularly those who belong to low-income and minority communities. It cites efforts of concerned institutions to increase recruitment and retention of first generation students. It also explores the increase in minority student enrollment in the country, the success of peer-to-peer academic programs, and the involvement of nonprofit groups in said initiatives. This article mentions efforts by Franklin & Marshall and Kenyon.
More on Franklin & Marhsall's College Prep Program
More on Kenyon's REACH Program

T. W., D. "Bridge Scholars Program." University Business 19.4 (2016): 26-27.

The article discusses the Bridge Scholars Program of Colorado College. Topics covered include the importance of integrating students from underrepresented backgrounds into the full collegiate environment, the program's targeting of first generation college students, and students' participation in interdisciplinary forces and co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Contributions to the program by faculty, administrators and student peer-mentors are also mentioned.
More on QuestBridge
More on Colorado College Bridge Scholars Program


Resources for Faculty

Collier, Peter J, and David L. Morgan. "“Is That Paper Really Due Today?”: Differences in First-Generation and Traditional College Students’ Understandings of Faculty Expectations." Higher Education : the International Journal of Higher Education and Educational Planning. 55.4 (2008): 425-446.

Wiggins, Janice. "Faculty And First-Generation College Students: Bridging The Classroom Gap Together." New Directions For Teaching & Learning 2011.127 (2011): 1-4.

"Drawing on her thirteen years of experience as director of Indiana University-Bloomington's Groups Program, which serves first generation and low-income students, the author details the challenges facing first generation college students (FGS). She argues for the need for sourcebooks such as this one to educate higher-education personnel about the academic, cultural, and social experiences of FGS. Educating college and university personnel is the first step toward improving FGS' college success, retention, and graduation rates." [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Fall 2011 - Issue on First Generation teaching and learning.

Greenwald, Richard. "Think Of First-Generation Students As Pioneers, Not Problems.." Chronicle Of Higher Education 59.12 (2012): A37-A38.