Report examines how to best support first-generation students


The portfolio of student resources offered by universities continues to grow, but a new report finds some resources and their delivery mechanisms may not be helping first-generation college students reach their academic goals.


The report by the Office of Enrollment Management, titled “Knowledge to Succeed: How First-Generation College Students Learn and Utilize Campus Resources at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor,” examines why traditional resource delivery channels may not work as effectively for first-generation students, and suggests alternatives.

It follows recommendations from the Student Success Task Force, which sought to understand how students were referred to resources and why they chose to trust some resources over others.

Through a series of focus groups, researchers examined the challenges that first-generation students face on campus.

They found first-generation students learn about campus resources from multiple sources including pre-college programs and academic transition programs that share common characteristics of targeted support, community introduction, peer mentorship and adviser interaction.

In terms of resource navigation, first-generation students opt for informal peer networks and trusted advisers. Despite being encouraged to employ independence and agency, many first-generation students have difficulty finding accurate and efficient information.

The researchers also advocate for further study on the barriers students experience in identifying, utilizing, and referring to resources.

“This report is a fantastic example of our approach to research in the Office of Enrollment Management,” said Steve Lonn, OEM director of data, analytics and research. “We use mixed methodologies to investigate key issues at U-M that can practically and iteratively improve educational outcomes for all students.”

The report lays out two new approaches for more effective delivery of resources to first-generation students.

The first strategy, the Model of Advisor Trustworthiness, identifies what characteristics first-generation students seek out among campus staff who assist students. The second approach, the Matrix of Student Success Information, illuminates how relationships and information-finding behaviors shape the ways students learn and utilize essential information to be successful.

“As a first-generation student myself studying campus organizational behavior, I still have trouble navigating bureaucracies and resources at the university,” said Jeffrey Grim, one of the report’s authors and a doctoral candidate in the School of Education. “I hope this work can help offices that are integral to student success, like financial aid and academic advising, to be useful in improving their practice.”

Read and learn more about challenges and strategies related to supporting first-generation college students, as well as guiding questions and points of consideration for student service leaders.


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