Mount Holyoke wins First-gen Forward honor

Mount Holyoke has received national recognition for its demonstrated commitment to advancing first-generation college student success.

By Emily Malloy

Mount Holyoke College was recently named a First-gen Forward Institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success. The national honor is in recognition of the College’s demonstrated commitment to advancing first-generation college student success.

Launched in 2017, the Center for First-generation Student Success is an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education — and The Suder Foundation. The center aims to improve institutional approaches to first-generation student experiences and outcomes, with a focus on innovation and advocacy. Its First-gen Forward recognition program is the first in the country to acknowledge the efforts of higher education institutions.

“We are delighted to receive this acknowledgement of Mount Holyoke’s intentional focus on first-generation and low-income students,” said Latrina L. Denson, associate dean of students for community and inclusion. “Being part of a national network of higher education institutions who share our vision and drive will help further our impact on first-generation and low-income student success.”

The 2020-2021 cohort of First-gen Forward institutions — including Mount Holyoke and 76 other colleges and universities — receives access to the center’s research and resources, in addition to opportunities for professional development and community-building. 

“The Center is so pleased to welcome Mount Holyoke into the 2020-2021 cohort of First-gen Forward institutions. Through the application process, it was evident that Mount Holyoke is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies for significant scaling and important advances in the future,” said Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the center.

The Division of Student Life coordinates Mount Holyoke’s campus-wide programmatic initiatives and support for first-generation and low-income students, who are recognized and valued by the College for their strengths, skills and perspectives. These initiatives are led by the First-Generation College Student Network in collaboration with the student organization FLIP (First-Generation and Low-Income Partnership).

Members of the First-Generation College Student Network, which was established in 2016, come together across campus to serve first-generation and low-income students. Members are passionate about helping students overcome the challenges they may face in a higher education setting. The network includes administrators, faculty and staff whose work — educational research, practice, advisement, services and more— influences the retention, persistence and matriculation of first-generation college students.

FLIP strives to help students find community within an institution that has traditionally been built for those from more privileged socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. By sponsoring events, co-sponsoring  conferences and more — including co-sponsoring sessions at Orientation 2020 for students and their families with the First Generation College Student Network — FLIP aims to orient students in navigating the college experience and help raise awareness about both challenges and resources. 

As a First-gen Forward Institution, select faculty and staff are afforded various opportunities to engage with peer and aspirational institutions who are also creating environments that improve the experiences and outcomes of first-generation students. Members of the cohort participate in monthly phone calls, virtual professional development, goal setting, annual reporting and more.

“We have already been able to network with other New England colleges and universities and we attended a NASPA conference track focused on first-generation and low-income students,” said Denson.

“First-gen Forward is an exciting opportunity for Mount Holyoke College to join an elite community of professionals prepared to share evidence-based practices and resources, troubleshoot challenges, generate knowledge, and continue to advance the success of first-generation students across the country. We are excited to see a groundswell of activity from the First-gen Forward cohort and know Mount Holyoke will be a significant contributor,” said Kevin Kruger, president and CEO of NASPA.