TLU: A First-Gen Forward University
While a first-generation college student is defined as an individual whose parents or legal guardian have not completed a bachelor's degree, first-generation students are so much more. They are trailblazers. Risk takers. Pioneers. They also make up more than half of TLU's student body, and many faculty and staff (including President Cottrell) are also first generation.
In early 2020, TLU was selected as an official First-Gen Forward University, joining less than 160 other institutions across the nation. While the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that 30 percent of all entering college freshmen are first generation, more than half of all TLU students identify as first generation.
As part of the Center For First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA and The Suder Foundation, TLU students have access to a community of professionals prepared to share resources, help with navigating through the application and financial aid process, and generate knowledge for the advancement of first-generation students.
Since this is such a fast-growing and critically important population at TLU, seeking best practices to address students' specific needs is a key focus for university administration.
The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that 30 percent of all entering college freshmen are first generation. In fall of 2014, 45 percent of TLU’s first-year students were first generation, but by 2018, that number increased to 65 percent, a 20 percent increase in just four years.
"I Am First" Campaign
TLU’s “I Am First” campaign is managed through the Office of Student Life & Learning. Director of First-Year Programs Samira López said although TLU’s program to recognize first-generation students started about 10 years ago, it didn’t gain traction until about 2014 when the number of first-generation students began dramatically increasing. In fall of 2018, López began working with a group of 30 students to find out more about their needs.
One of the things they indicated was how they wanted to create their own community, both on campus and off, where they could share, socialize, and ask each other questions. Simply put they just wanted to be seen. “I Am First” not only highlights the students who are the first in their family to attend college, it’s also a way for the entire campus to see them and celebrate their achievements.
Parents and first-generation faculty and staff are also included in the program. The Office Of Student Life & Learning team started hosting a pinning ceremony in the chapel to honor students, faculty, and staff. This is a special event that unites different audiences across campus, inspiring a sense of empathy and community.
The Office of Student Life and Learning is also focused on serving the needs of this growing group when it comes to university holidays.
Many of these students often have to choose between going home for Thanksgiving or going home for Christmas. Since they almost always choose Christmas, the Office of First-Year and Campus Programs started hosting a special Thanksgiving dinner in 2014.They quickly realized how having a Thanksgiving event on campus would give them a place to celebrate with their TLU family, including many first-generation faculty and staff who also attend.