November 3, 2023

Purdue Global first-generation students create educational definitions dictionary to help navigate school

Online tool helps students learn the vocabulary of academic institutions

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Words like “accommodation,” “accredited,” “microcredentials” and “provost” can prove to be challenging terms for first-generation adult learners. On top of the many other hurdles students face, understanding the words and terms that professors use can be an adjustment.

That is why Maggie Morgan, academic department chair for Purdue Global’s Department of Human Services, led a group of first-generation students in the development of Speaking “University,” an online educational definitions dictionary, which helps students as they begin their educational journey or continue their comeback to finish their degree.

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“My department has a greater number of students that have been traditionally underserved. One of the things in the research of first-generation students is often they’re the least likely to ask for help. They may feel intimidated or anxious, and they don’t know all of the language used,” Morgan said.

While the concept is not original to Purdue Global, Morgan says their dictionary version best fits the needs of all Purdue Global students.

“We have links so students can learn more about the term,” Morgan said. “We have it linked to the catalog, academic calendar and other places where they might want to find out more. It also teaches students to see the breadth and depth of things we have for them.”

Launched in June 2021, the dictionary currently features 111 words and has a link where students and staff can submit words to be added to the list. Faculty members have heard countless stories from students about how useful this tool has been. Students and instructors alike see the impact the tool is having.

“I try to connect the terms with the content of the seminar,” said Maria Brown, first-term instructor in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “For example, we are studying the role of human services professionals in the public school setting, so we talk about examples of accommodations that we may advocate for students in K-12. I also share examples of accommodations that Purdue Global offers and encourage students to reach out if they want a referral. Earlier this year, one student said, ‘Wow! This university offers so much help!’ I often hear students say that they didn’t know that accommodations were available at the college level.”

Purdue Global is Purdue’s online university for working adults, with more than 35,000 students enrolled and an estimated 11,000 degrees and certificates awarded each year. The current student snapshot at Purdue Global includes these data points:

  • 59% of students are 30 years of age or older.
  • 40% of students are from underserved populations.
  • 52% of students have a child or other dependents.
  • 50% are first-generation college students.
  • Approximately 10,000 are military-affiliated students, a population that includes uniformed personnel, veterans and eligible dependents.

About Purdue Global

Purdue Global is Purdue’s online university for working adults who have life experience and often some college credits. It offers flexible paths for students to earn an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, based on their work experience, military service and previous college credits, no matter where they are in their life journey. Purdue Global is a nonprofit, public university accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and backed by Purdue University. For more information, visit

Writer/Media contact: Adam Bartels, 

Sources: Maggie Morgan, Sara Sander, Maria Brown

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