Stevenson University receives $100,000 Walmart College Success Award to help first-generation college students

Stevenson University has been selected as one of 30 independent colleges and universities nationwide to receive a Council of Independent Colleges (CIC)/Walmart College Success Award. The $100,000 award will allow Stevenson to initiate a Generation One (Gen1) Project to assist first-generation college students in the transition to university life and to sustain support programs for them throughout their college experience.

“Approximately 30 percent of our student body is first-generation undergraduate college students,” said Paul Lack, Dean and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at Stevenson University. “For many of these students and their families, the college experience is new territory, from the application and financial aid process to utilizing the services that we offer our students. The goal of our Gen1 Project will be to identify the best practices that help them succeed in college.”

Stevenson’s Gen1 Project will target a group of incoming first-generation college students each year and engage them in sustained support programs throughout their college experience. Gen1-targeted programs will include mentoring by faculty members who were themselves first-generation college students; a peer support system to connect students academically and socially with other students who may be having similar experiences; and a parent orientation process to familiarize first-generation college parents with the University, the financial aid process, and other college resources and services.
Stevenson University will conduct a rigorous evaluation of the Gen1 Project by comparing student participants each year against a control group as well as interviewing the Gen1 participants at key points in their college careers in order to identify best practices for their retention and success.

The CIC/Walmart College Success Awards are focused on strengthening programs that support the education of first-generation students. Twenty CIC member institutions with programs that show the greatest promise of increasing retention of the largest number of first-generation students were selected to receive grants of $100,000. Another 10 received $50,000 awards. All award winners have an undergraduate enrollment that includes at least 30 percent first-generation students among the most recent classes of first-year students.

“The 20 colleges and universities selected for the initial awards in 2008 have done a great job in rising to the challenges of retaining and graduating first-generation students,” said Walmart Foundation President Margaret McKenna. “The Walmart Foundation is proud to provide the opportunity for an additional 30 institutions to participate in the program and contribute to the growing body of knowledge on how best to support these students.”

“We are delighted by the recognition that this second grant from the Walmart Foundation gives to the role played by private colleges in educating first-generation students,” said CIC President Richard Ekman. “Much attention has been focused recently on higher education as a key to making the United States workforce stronger and the country more competitive in the 21st century world economy. As the federal government and philanthropic leaders call for increased degree completion in higher education, small and mid-sized private institutions are an underutilized resource in this effort. Private colleges also enroll comparable or higher percentages of lower-income and first-generation students to public institutions and they require far less subsidy by state governments to succeed in meeting these national goals. Most importantly, small and mid-sized private institutions have moved beyond a focus on access to a record of unequalled success in retaining and graduating low-income and first-generation students.”

Citing data from the American Association of Community Colleges, Ekman noted that more than six million students a year enroll for credit at the nation’s community colleges. However, only 26 percent actually transfer to a four-year college. In addition, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the six-year graduation rate of first-generation students at public four-year institutions is only 44 percent compared with 61 percent at private colleges and universities. “In short, if we are to achieve the ambitious national goal of increased numbers of college graduates, the lessons learned from the experiences of private colleges will need to be heeded by national policymakers and others,” Ekman said.

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