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K-State Today

October 1, 2015

The significance of K-State's first-generation students

Submitted by Steven Dandaneau

Dear colleagues,

According to Student Success Collaborative data, K-State currently boasts 6,992 undergraduate students who self-identify as first-generation — that is, students who are striving to be the first in their respective families to earn a bachelor's degree.

As was so movingly illustrated in the College of Education's 2014 film, "A Walk in My Shoes: First Generation," our first-generation students' stories are many and diverse, but one thing they have in common is an uncommon understanding of the value of a university education and the determination that comes with such.

Still, we know also from the Student Success Collaborative data that our first-generation students' six-year graduation rate, while higher than the national average, lags well behind that of their legacy peers. Among the factors that underlie this all too common disparity is the first-generation student's struggle — often alone — to make sense of what are complex institutions and relatively foreign academic cultures. For some first-gens, life at K-State is akin to study abroad, complete with culture-shock. First-gens do not enjoy as much taken-for-granted knowledge and experience nor as strong a basis of non-cognitive factors to rely. First-generation students bring innumerable strengths to K-State, but they need our understanding.

This is why I encourage faculty and staff to register for the Teaching & Learning's Center's Oct. 13 program, "Teaching Success with 1st Gen Students." Join more than 100 K-State participants for this exciting program or, if you are not available, ask a participant to share what they learned from the current research and related best-practices that will be presented. We also will do our part to share the stories told and the lessons learned with the greater K-State community, for we all have a mission-based and strategic stake in first-generation student success.

Many thanks to Jana Fallin, Paula Connors and all the others who have helped organize and contribute to this important program. Gratitude also is due to The Suder Foundation for providing essential financial support.