Last December, the Center for First-Generation Student Success named Carleton a First-Gen Forward institution, a distinction it now shares with 156 other colleges and universities in the nation.
The Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to “driving higher education innovation and advocacy for first-generation student success,” awards the title annually to institutions that demonstrate a commitment to their first-generation students. Once selected, First-Gen Forward Institutions become members of the First-Gen Forward cohort and participate in regional community calls, attend virtual meetings and events, and set yearly goals together.
This is only the second annual cohort for the Center, which was founded in 2017. Among Carleton’s 76 co-members in this year’s cohort are Boston College and Cornell University. The majority of the institutions, however, are state universities, technical schools and community colleges. Notably, the 25 fellow liberal arts colleges that Carleton lists in its “Core Peer Group” are entirely absent from both this year’s and last year’s cohorts.
About 11 to 13 percent of Carleton students represent the first generation of their families to attend college. A host of unique experiences and challenges often accompany this experience. “When I came to Carleton my first year, I was terrified,” shared Miah Kline ’22, a first-generation student herself. “I was in unfamiliar territory, doing what I had been dreaming of my whole life, [but] feeling completely unprepared.”
Trinh Tieu ’22, another first-generation student at Carleton, concurred. “My other peers seemed much more prepared academically and socially,” she said.
First-generation student Jayti Arora ’23 explained, “Many of the obstacles were simply trying to understand the structure of Carleton and explaining that back to my family.”
Carleton has sought to lighten the burdens of unfamiliarity by providing detailed financial aid information, a technology loaner program and, most recently, creating a directory of first-generation faculty and staff who might serve as sources of support. Among Carleton’s most significant contributions is the TRIO program, which endows its participants with advising and support all four years as well as a dedicated space on campus.
“Whether it is a matter concerning the financial aid office, professors, or other offices on campus, [TRIO Director] Trey [Williams] and the TRIO office will advocate for their students,” said current TRIO intern Shealuck Vang. Vang most recently worked to organize campus events such as TRIO Awareness Week, which, in past years, has involved activities from financial literacy workshops to art displays and panel discussions.
“[Having a dedicated TRIO advisor] has allowed me to create strong relationships with and receive advice from the TRIO community,” Kline said. “The collaboration of others has helped me feel the whole Carleton community.”
Though Carleton has been recognized for its achievements in first-generation student support, many students hope that further work will be done. “Being named a First-Gen Forward institution is just the first step,” Vang explained. In addition to higher acceptance rates and financial support for first-generation students, Vang hopes to see “more college-led conversations and events on the first-gen identity” and support for low-income, disabled or first-generation students who would otherwise qualify for TRIO but cannot join the program due to insufficient federal funding.
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