Indiana State, Southern Illinois join to help first-generation college students

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
October 27, 2010

Two Midwestern universities that serve a substantial number of first-generation students are reaching across state lines to help more underserved students complete a four-year degree.

Indiana State University and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale today announced a partnership to address the twin challenges of student access and success. The universities pledged to cooperatively develop and implement the most effective ways to reach out to underserved students and help them graduate.

Indiana State President Dan Bradley said the research-driven project is aimed at recruiting, retaining, sustaining and graduating more first-generation students.

"Participation by first-generation students is vital if we are to achieve the goals set forth by President Obama and Congress of restoring America's leadership in higher education and once again producing the highest proportion of college graduates in the world," Bradley said.

Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard said the partnership "fits seamlessly with the Obama administration's goal of increasing college completion rates to 60 percent by 2025. This project is student-centered and is intensely focused on the unique needs of first-generation undergraduates."

About half of all entering freshmen at Indiana State and Southern Illinois are first-generation, meaning they will be the first in their families to complete a higher education degree. The majority of such students at Indiana State come from small towns and rural areas while first-generation students at Southern Illinois tend to come from both rural and urban regions of the state.

Regardless of their backgrounds, they share many of the same challenges: they are often under-prepared for college and have little knowledge about the college experience - largely because they have no immediate family members who have completed college, Bradley and Poshard said.

The First-Generation Student Recruitment, Retention and Graduation Initiative will serve as a laboratory to develop strategies for helping underserved students enroll in college and complete their degrees. It will target selected communities in each state to identify first-generation students early in high school. Indiana State and Southern Illinois will then work with school counselors to provide identified students with relevant information about college opportunities.

"We need to assure first generation students that they can attend college and that a four-year degree is often more affordable than they may realize. Students and their families often find the process intimidating and many don't realize the highly publicized ‘sticker price' of a year at college is not the out-of-reach barrier it may appear to be," Bradley said.

"We know from our ‘Saluki First Year' experience that a comprehensive approach that includes skill building in the areas of time and budget management, along with intensive tutoring and counseling can dramatically reduce a first generation student's stress levels and greatly improve his or her academic success," Poshard said.

The First-Generation Initiative also calls for several other steps to ensure students' success, including:
• Transition to college programs to better prepare first-year students
• Continuous academic support in an effort to intervene early in the semester while there is more time to help struggling students
• Residential villages in which first-generation students would live and study together, benefitting from shared backgrounds and experiences
• More out-of-class interaction with faculty
• A commitment on the part of students to campus and community engagement
• Parental support and involvement
• A summit meeting at the end of the first year of college to assess student success
• Greater access to scholarships and work/study benefits

The joint venture is intended not only to help attract more students to the two universities and ensure their success, but also serve as a blueprint for other institutions and a source of academic research on successful intervention strategies.

"Indiana State and Southern Illinois universities are uniquely qualified as a laboratory for first-generation student success. Through this groundbreaking effort, we will work together to help an ever increasing number of students from diverse ethnic and economic groups," Bradley said. "To remain competitive, our state of Indiana must produce 10,000 more college graduates each year. The First-Generation Initiative can go a long way in helping us do that."

Poshard said SIU-Carbondale Chancellor Rita Cheng "is dedicated to creating the academic environment necessary to provide all of our students the opportunity to succeed. This first generation partnership between SIUC and Indiana State will only further enhance those efforts."

Cheng's efforts have recently been recognized by the Suder Foundation, a national foundation providing financial support to institutions of higher education committed to building the support services necessary for first-generation students.

The ISU/SIU First Generation Initiative has been developed during the past six months. During that time, Bradley and Posahrd have briefed U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary Martha Kanter about the initiatiave. They have also visited the White House to discuss the partnership and lend support to the president's goal of restoring America's role as the world's leader in producing college graduates.

Indiana State and Southern Illinois universities were founded in the 1860s as teacher colleges and have since developed into comprehensive universities. Indiana State offers more than 100 programs and serves more than 11,000 students while Southern Illinois is home to more than 20,000 students who are enrolled in more than 180 academic programs.

Media contacts: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu and Dave Gross, executive director of governmental and public affairs, Southern Illinois University, 217-545-8080 or dgross@siu.edu