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Catawba College partners with national nonprofit in support of first generation college students

Twenty-five percent of Catawba College’s total day program undergraduates enrolled in fall 2014 classes were first-generation college students. That is one of the reasons Catawba recently joined the nonprofit Center for Student Opportunity’s growing community of nearly 200 college partners.

Catawba, like other Center for Student Opportunity college partners, shares a commitment to supporting first-generation college students on campus.

Recognizing that students who don’t have a family history of higher education often lack access to good information and support to navigate the path to and through college, Center for Student Opportunity partners with four-year colleges and universities to promote and strengthen college opportunities for first-generation college students.

In addition to Catawba, other Center for Student Opportunity college partners in North Carolina include Davidson College, Duke University, Meredith College, N.C. A&T State University, North Carolina State University and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

It is estimated that 24 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions today are low income, first-generation college students. But nine out of every 10 will not earn a bachelor’s degree six years out from high school. They drop out of college at four times the rate of their peers whose parents have a postsecondary education.

Catawba College and Center for Student Opportunity are working to change this trend. The nonprofit’s “I’m First!” project is an online community for aspiring first-generation college students — and those who advise them. The website, rich with student videos, blogs and advice, is an information hub through which students can research and connect with colleges like Catawba and learn about campus programs that support first-generation college students.

Catawba College is also featured in the Center for Student Opportunity’s “I’m First! Guide to College,” the only comprehensive college guidebook for first-generation college-bound students.

Catawba, with an historic reputation for helping first-generation college students persist in their efforts to earn a bachelor’s degree, has made even more targeted efforts with this population of its students in recent years.

In June of 2010, Catawba was one of 30 Council of Independent Colleges member colleges and universities selected through a competitive application process to receive grants called Council of Independent Colleges/Walmart College Success Awards. Catawba received a $100,000 award, which it used to initiate activities in a program called NextGen.

NextGen targeted four different cohorts of its first-generation students. The funding allowed the institution to train and develop faculty and staff to work with first-year, first-generation students, fund the special activities designed to build social and cultural capital for these students who enrolled in the NextGen First Year Seminar and target outreach activities to the families of first-generation students.

Data collected about the last four years of NextGen First Year Seminar groups indicate that these students had a higher grade point average and higher retention rates than those of Catawba students who were in other First Year Seminars.

Catawba’s Vice President of Enrollment Cindy Barr said the college’s affiliation with Center for Student Opportunity and its “I’m First!” program provides added resources that can be shared with prospective first-generation college students navigating their path into the right college for them.

“We are committed to offering programs and services that help all of our students reach their full potential and so we are very proud be in partnership with Center for Student Opportunity and ‘I’m First!’ This is the kind of community and resource that can benefit prospective students and families when considering which college is right for them,” Barr said.

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