The Student Transition Empowerment Program supports first-generation students who have enrolled in the university. STEP participants attend a summer academy before their freshman year that includes workshops, seminars and college classes. Students are also given a faculty and upperclassman mentor, take a University 100 class in the fall and have regular meetings throughout college with a STEP staff member.
The program aims to prevent problems first-generation students typically face. A 2005 study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that first-generation students “completed fewer credits, took fewer academic courses, earned lower grades, needed more remedial assistance and were more likely to withdraw from or repeat courses they attempted,” when compared to students whose parents had college degrees. With most college students having at least one “non-traditional” characteristic, colleges and universities need to amend their recruiting and advertising strategies to attract potential applicants, including first-generation college students as well as adult learners, according to a recent op-ed in University Business.
Some colleges and universities are reaching out to students in K-12 schools, with the belief that earlier support can help first-gen students in the process of selecting a school. For example, Colorado State University offers a number of different tutoring, instruction and professional development services in high schools and middle schools.
Schools should also consider featuring more adult learners in online and promotional materials about the institution, as it could make adult students returning to the classroom feel more welcome. And many of these students will likely want to complete their schooling as quickly as possible, so schools could consider offering accelerated courses.
In addition to focusing on the content of the institution’s outreach, administrators seeking to attract more first-generation learners should also consider the processes they are using to reach them, and invest more resources in more successful ones. Modeling outreach programs like Colorado State University can be very beneficial and help prepare local students for a postsecondary education, but schools should make sure they have the appropriate staff with the right expertise to reach first-generation students on social media, including those who may not be privy to in-person visits from representatives of the institution.
With the rate of adult learners enrolling in college campuses seems set to rise even higher during the coming decade, it is likely that we will continue to see higher ed institutions offer accelerated courses, weekend programs, alternative credentialing and online options. However, as institutions are building out these alternatives and opportunities, they should support educators in helping to maintain the educational needs of these students. Adult learners are seeking faster and more convenient options due to other commitments, but that does mean they will be satisfied with the diminished quality. Maintaining community and communication between educator and student, as well as between students, will be more difficult with online courses serving learners with disparate responsibilities, and institutions should find ways to offer innovative solutions to keeping communication between student’s constant, like online venues for back-channel discussions that can take place outside of the online lecture and class period.