he University of California, Riverside, has been selected to join a group of universities looking to advance educational opportunities for first-generation college students.
On Monday, March 2, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, known as NASPA, announced UCR will join its 2020-21 First-gen Forward cohort, an honor that earned the university a designation as a First-gen Forward Institution. The cohort will work within NASPA’s Center for First-Generation Student Success.
This national recognition acknowledges UCR’s efforts to support students who are first-gen, meaning they are the first in their families to attend a four-year university, with neither parent or guardian having graduated with a four-year degree in the United States.
In 2017, UCR first joined the UC-wide “First-Gen Faculty” campaign highlighting and identifying professors who can serve as mentors for first-gen students. UCR wanted to go a step beyond and expanded the campaign to also support students, said Thomas Dickson, assistant vice provost of Undergraduate Education. Last year his office launched a new logo and theme "First Gen UCR: Believe in Firsts."
First Gen UCR logo
“We are thrilled to be part of the First-gen Forward cohort. It’s a chance to recognize the great work that is being done at UCR,” said Dickson, a first-generation college graduate himself, whose office is leading UCR’s first-gen initiatives. “The support programs and structures we’ve developed have been well received by our campus partners. Together we are moving forward with supporting our first-gen students.”
Fifty-eight percent of UCR undergraduates are first-gen, compared to 34% at the national level. UCR’s first-gen graduation rate is nearly 60%, with an 88% first-year retention rate.
Due to UCR’s large first-gen population, university leaders decided to forge comprehensive programs to help first-gen students graduate, such as mentorship opportunities and a week-long series of first-gen student support and celebration programs.
The office of Undergraduate Education has worked with various campus partners to allow first-gen students to access resources and information. It has also partnered with the TRIO Scholars program to offer academic, social, personal, and career support, as well as with the Mentoring Summer Research Internship Program, which helps undergraduate students prepare for graduate school.
The goal is for students to find open doors and multiple contacts across the university who can support them at every step of their educational journey, Dickson said.
As part of the First-gen Forward cohort, the teams will share evidence-based practices and resources, troubleshoot challenges, and generate knowledge to impact students across the United States.
“Now in its second year, First-gen Forward institutions continue to lead the nation by their commitment to first-generation student success,” said Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “The 2020-21 cohort consists of diverse institutions across the nation and we are pleased to welcome UC Riverside for their long-term commitment and demonstrated strategies for scaling first-generation student initiatives.”
This year’s cohort represents a national movement of two- and four-year institutions dedicated to advancing the success of first-generation students, said Kevin Kruger, president and CEO of NASPA, who highlighted UCR as a strong contributor in this effort.