By Steve Nakata, Student Affairs & Enrollment
PULLMAN, Wash. – The First Scholars program has helped Washington State University surpass the national percentage of first-generation students who complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrollment. Yet the program only has capacity to accept 20 new students each fall.
Now the university is getting two grants, totaling more than $69,000, to expand opportunities to more first-generation students.
First Scholars provides scholarships and personalized support for students whose parents did not attend college. WSU is the only institution on the west coast with the program.
The grants will fund two initiatives: faculty and staff professional development to enhance resources and opportunities for first-generation students and a living-learning community for them.
A focus on professional development
Invited faculty and staff will begin work on the first initiative at a May 15 luncheon in the CUB.
“By becoming educated about these issues and demonstrating a commitment to making positive change on campus, our idea is that this group will be able to institute a first-generation campus culture complete with resources and opportunities for students,” said Lucila Loera, assistant vice president for access, equity and achievement at WSU. “This is something that we already see happening on other campuses around the country.”
WSU First Scholars Program Director Eva Navarijo has identified more than 150 WSU faculty and staff who were first-generation college students themselves. She predicts this number will grow as the word about the first-generation initiatives gets out.
“We will engage this group in building an institutional culture to connect students with faculty and staff from similar backgrounds,” she said. “We can scale this to include more first-generation college students as we expand our network of support.”
Select members of the group will help create training materials across disciplines for deans, faculty and staff. Members will meet several times each semester to discuss institutional policies, practices and campus climate.
A new living-learning community
Scott-Coman Residence Hall has been identified as the best location for a living-learning community of first-generation students because it already has a “scholars” theme.
First-generation students living there will have access to social, academic and cultural enrichment activities including academic programming provided by their professors.
Building on First Scholars success
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, only 36 percent of first-generation students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrollment, compared with 43 percent of their peers whose parents had some college and 60 percent of their peers whose parents have college degrees.
As a result of structured tutoring, mentoring and involvement in community service, WSU students are beating that national trend, Navarijo said. In fact, they are doing better than the overall WSU student population.
Recognizing that First Scholars is a successful model, the Suder Foundation – a nonprofit organization that funds WSU’s First Scholars program – has provided the grants to establish similar services across the university so many more students can benefit.
“It is a welcome challenge,” Loera said. “Through our First Scholars program, we feel we have good experience to draw upon and lots of creative people at WSU to involve in this project.”
Eva Navarijo, WSU First Scholars Program, 509-335-3167, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucila Loera, WSU Access, Equity, and Achievement, 509-335-7944, email@example.com
Steve Nakata, WSU Student Affairs & Enrollment communications, 509-335-1774, firstname.lastname@example.org