Many first generation college students don't know a lot about college when they start exploring their college options. These students lean on the knowledge of family, friends, their high schools, and other organizations to help them explore their college options. There are many tools that help make college a reality for most first generation college students.
Benchmarking other successful programs is necessary for any sustainable program. Lipscomb’s existing programs offered through the Academic Success Center is a good place to start to see what would be possible at Lipscomb. The Academic Success Center provides support for students facing academic challenges, as well as offers opportunities for students to enrich their academic experience. This is one area that focuses on academically supporting and encouraging Lipscomb students towards their college and career goals.
A national model to explore that helps support first generation college students is a program called TRIO. Federal TRIO programs exist to provide educational support and opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to assist them in preparing for, enrolling in, and completing postsecondary education programs”. These programs must provide measurable outcomes for their academic support and other opportunities that they provide for these specific groups of students. Within the TRIO programs, the Student Success Services are designed “to increase the postsecondary persistence and graduation rates of low-income, first-generation college students, and students with disabilities and to facilitate these students’ transition into higher education”.
Within the TRIO program exists Student Success Services, which are designed to “increase the postsecondary persistence and grad rates of low-income, first generation college student, and students with disabilities and to facilitate these student’s transition in to higher ed. “ SSS model is largest and one of the most successful student serving programs in country.
What is important?
The major outcomes of TRIO and Student Success Services are to increase retention and graduation rates. Student Success Services have to provide results and show how their programs affect graduation and retention rates. These student services also have to help their institutions understand why meeting the specific needs of these students are important and why specific services are needed to help them succeed. Studies have shown that the most important finding of success among Student Success Services is improved student academic outcomes. Overall student academic success will lead to better retention and graduation rates, which impacts the student and the institution directly.
Who is addressing the need now?
Middle Tennessee State University, the state’s largest public university, has a TRIO program that offers services to those three sub-groups of students by encouraging, empowering, and inspiring their students. Some of MTSU’s services offered to TRIO members are free tutoring, financial advising, academic and career counseling, cultural support, personal support and encouragement, success workshops, etc. These services provide support for three of those common risk factors first generation college students face including academic obstacles, financial concerns, and family/work responsibilities. Finding programming that supports the main basic needs of first generation college students will encourage success on many levels.
Harding’s TRIO model includes similar elements of MTSU’s program, but also offers “gateway” courses during the freshman year. Their hope is to introduce those students to a peer group early on so they will create lasting bonds and small communities among one another. Those students are not only encouraged to grow in their individual abilities, but to also grow in unity as a group of first generation, low-income, and disability students. Harding’s model shows the importance of creating peer student bonds early on so students will have others who they can identify and share their college experiences with.
All of these models, whether local or national, are programs that are designed to help the needs of first generation college students. Exploring ways to incorporate these programs and services into Lipscomb's first generation college student program will help ensure the success of a pilot program.