Eureka College is featured in a new national report from the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) titled “Making Sure They Make It! Best Practices for Ensuring the Academic Success of First-Generation College Students.” The college also is featured on the newly launched CIC/Walmart College Success Awards website at www.cic.edu/CollegeSuccessAwards.
The report summarizes the experiences of 50 colleges and universities that received substantial grants from CIC/Walmart Foundation to help strengthen exemplary programs that support the education of first-generation students. The website’s main purpose is to help institutions of higher education that are interested in starting or improving programs and services for first-generation college students.
Eureka College received a $50,000 grant in 2010 from the CIC/Walmart College Success Awards program to enhance its Early College Program. The program is designed to provide a support network for first-generation students to help them persist to graduation. Students participate in a special three-day cultural immersion program in early August, attend cultural events in Chicago, St. Louis and Peoria, and work with assigned peer mentors.
Eureka College and the 49 other institutions that participated in the program were selected through a competitive application process in 2008 and 2010; 40 institutions received $100,000 grants and 10 received $50,000 grants to help build on programs that showed the greatest promise of increasing retention of the largest number of first-generation students. These College Success Award recipients worked together as a network to assist first-generation college students, learn from one another, and serve as models for other colleges and universities. All award-winners had an undergraduate enrollment that includes at least 30 percent first-generation students among the most recent classes of first-year students.
Commenting on the results of the report, CIC President Richard Ekman said, “The many and multifaceted successes of the CIC/Walmart Award recipients speak to the value of the institutions’ ongoing efforts. We are delighted by so many positive outcomes, and it is our hope that the work of these 50 institutions will inspire other colleges and universities in all sectors of higher education to step up their own efforts to attract, retain, educate and graduate first-generation college students.” He added, “The report and the website provide information and best practices that will be applicable to any institution.”
Facts about First-Generation Students: Walmart’s objective in funding the four-year program and CIC’s goal in administering it were to help colleges and universities tackle the many challenges faced by first-generation students and to help these students succeed in and graduate from college. The facts are these: First-generation college students are more likely than their peers to come from low-income families, come from a home where English is a second language, and come from rural communities. About two-fifths are students of color. Compared to students whose parents attended college, first-generation students often are not as well prepared academically, lack support from family members, and are less prepared to find and use financial aid information. Once they are enrolled, first-generation students are more likely to attend part-time, to take one or more remedial courses, to work at paid jobs more hours per week, to live off-campus, to major in business or management, and to earn slightly lower first-year GPAs. They also typically spend less time studying, interact less with faculty and their peers, and participate less in co-curricular activities, athletics and volunteer work. And they are far more likely to drop out after the first year.
Report Findings: Many of the programs for first-generation students achieved extraordinarily positive results in improved academic performance and retention of first-generation students. At Eureka College, for example, 73 percent of the first-generation students who participated in program events have persisted to their second year over the last three years, while the rate for those who did not participate was 46 percent.
In addition, many institutions surpassed goals for identifying and enrolling these students,and assessment efforts indicated that first-generation students credited the College Success Programs with helping them with the transition to college, creating greater self-confidence, improving their GPAs, connecting them to faculty members as well as the larger campus community, and helping them graduate.
Best Practices: Although the report cautions that there may be no “silver bullet” when it comes to enhancing the academic success of first-generation students, the colleges and universities that participated in the CIC/Walmart College Success Awards developed several best practices that led to success:
- Identify, actively recruit, and continually track first-generation students;
- Bring them to campus early;
- Focus on the distinctive features of first-generation students;
- Develop a variety of programs that meet students’ ongoing needs;
- Use mentors;
- Institutionalize a commitment to first-generation students;
- Build community, promote engagement, and make it fun;
- Involve family (but keep expectations realistic);
- Acknowledge, and ease when possible, financial pressures; and
- Keep track of your successes and failures.
The report illuminates these 10 best practices with examples, quotations, data and stories from the 50 institutions that will help any college or university interested in improving efforts to retain, educate and graduate first-generation college students.
The Website: The College Success Awards website is organized so that visitors can get an overview of the project and significant results, read about the lessons learned during the course of all four years of the project, peruse individual program profiles for all 50 participating institutions, search for specific ideas and tips categorized by the strategies used by the various institutions, and see a list of complementary resources that might be of further use to them. Eureka College is featured at www.eureka.edu.The site also gives visitors an opportunity to contribute to the website by adding other programs that might benefit other colleges. Visitors have easy access to additional program information, including videos, photographs and materials used in the participants’ first-generation programs.
The “Making Sure They Make It!” report found at www.cic.edu/CollegeSuccessAwards is authored by Kerry J. Strand, Andrew G. Truxal Professor of Sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology and Social Work at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland.