Purdue selected to join new national initiative to improve experiences for first-gen students

First Forward logo

Purdue University has been selected to participate in the inaugural First Forward cohort, a national initiative designed to improve experiences for first-generation college students.

The First Forward designation recognizes higher education institutions with a proven commitment to advancing first-generation student outcomes. Sarah Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success, says selected institutions demonstrated their commitment to first-generation students within a rigorous application process.

“It was evident that Purdue University is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies for significant scaling and important advances in the future,” says Whitley, who oversees the first-generation initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation.

Purdue programs such as Purdue Promise and Horizons have a specific focus on Purdue’s first-generation student population. However, Dennis Bowling, senior associate director of Student Success Programs, says there is an opportunity for various campus leaders and units to come together and make a broader impact.

“About 20 percent of Purdue’s student body is first-generation, but we know that these students’ rates of retention, graduation, and career outcomes are historically lower than their non-first-generation peers,” Bowling says. “While we engage a percentage of first-generation students in Student Success Programs, we have to move forward as a cohesive campus if we want to close the overall achievement gap.”

Bowling will co-represent Purdue in the First Forward initiative alongside Joel Ebarb, senior associate dean for Undergraduate Education and International Programs in the College of Liberal Arts. As a first-generation student himself, Ebarb says he has a personal connection to the unique perspectives of these students.

“First-generation students have the same potential for success as any student if they have access to the necessary information and resources,” Ebarb says. “Often, first-generation students may not know the questions to ask, much less where to look for answers. Knowledge is power, and we want to put that power in the hands of all students, including those identified as first-generation.”

Ebarb says participating in First Forward will enable Purdue to learn more about the unique challenges faced by contemporary first-generation students and how those challenges can be reduced by individuals and Purdue as an institution.

“For 150 years, Purdue has welcomed first-generation students,” Ebarb says. “We are simply looking to assist in continuing the tradition for the next 150.”

Bowling and Ebarb will join a community of professionals prepared to share evidence-based practices and resources, troubleshoot challenges, generate knowledge, and continue to advance the success of first-generation students across the country. They will participate in a First Forward workshop in June, as well as monthly phone calls, virtual professional development, goal setting, annual reporting, and more. After two successful years in the program, Purdue will be eligible to apply for the program’s Advisory leadership designation.

Meanwhile, Bowling and Ebarb plan to organize a campus wide summit in the fall of 2019, inviting the Purdue community to discuss barriers faced by first-generation students and potential initiatives at Purdue. More information will be shared closer to the event.

Writer: Andrea Mattingly, 765-496-3754, andrea@purdue.edu

Last updated: May 10, 2019

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