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June 15, 2022

College Promise on Expanding Promise: Depicting the ecosystems of Support and Financial Sustainability for First-Generation Students

Because a uniform, national college promise model would not adequately serve the estimated 20 million students in postsecondary education, ETS and College Promise launched an effort to expand the work on College Promise programs to identify ecosystems of support for specific student populations. In 2021, we invited scholars, practitioners, and student representatives to join a design team and cocreate the college promise program for their student populations. This research was recently published in a new study about programmatic strategies and supports to better serve five student populations, including first-generation students.

First-generation college students are defined as those “who enroll in postsecondary education and whose parents do not have any post-secondary education experience.” However, this is not a one size fits all definition as many students define themselves as first-generation if only one parent went to college, what going to college means to them, the type of institution their parent(s) attended, or who they consider a parent. 

College Promise explored six barriers a first-generation college student may encounter: 1) disparities in preparation for college-level work, 2) navigating the transition to higher education, 3) financing a college degree, 4) raising student awareness of services, 5) degree attainment, and 6) employment and earnings.

Analysis and Recommendations

  1. Research and data collections: reach a consensus on a standard definition of “first-generation college student”, which can be further divided into subgroups, recognizing the ways in which a student’s first-generation status intersects with other aspects of their identity.
  2. Implications for practice: develop a program of academic and financial resources to meet the needs of first-generation college students, such as direct scholarships, peer mentoring, academic advisors, career coaches, and a pathway to paid internship programs for course credit.
  3. Policy recommendations: implementation of stackable credentials to allow a student to return to school to earn a second credential, and the provision of financial assistance for non-tuition costs

Read the full policy brief here.

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