Texas Lutheran University is an official 2020-21 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; the first in their family to attend a four year college/university to attain a bachelor's degree.
Selected by the Center For First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA and The Suder Foundation, TLU is now part of 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.
One of those initiatives is TLU’s “I Am First” campaign through the Department 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.
According to university data, in fall 2014, 45 percent of TLU’s first-year students were first generation. By 2018, that number jumped to 65 percent, a 20 percent increase in just four years. Shortly after, López initiated a conversation with 30 first-gen students to ask them what they would like to get out of the program.
“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,” said López. Simply put, she said they “just wanted to be seen.”
The “I Am First” campaign 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.
“It’s an honor to be selected as a National First-Gen Forward Institution because it means that our program is providing students with an equitable foundation they need to succeed in a college environment,” López said.
TLU President Dr. Debbie Cottrell said this recognition reinforces TLU's commitment to serving students.
“As a first-generation college student myself, I understand the importance of making sure these students are welcomed, encouraged, and know that they belong at TLU,” she said. “I’m so proud of the work that Samira López and the Student Life and Learning team do in this area to ensure support and success for these students, and for the broad way this work reinforces the university’s mission.”