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Photo of first-gen students
Students celebrate First-Gen Day.

TCU has been supporting first-generation college students through its TRIO Student Support Services since 1997. In the last three years, those efforts are gaining particular momentum. First-gen college students now make up about 17 percent of the Horned Frog student body.

In 2017, determined to create a narrative of pride around the first-gen college student identity, SSS joined with Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services and Student Development Services to form the First Gen Network to organize, formalize and enhance programming efforts in support of first-generation college students. The network hosts an annual First-Gen Day of Celebration; workshops providing personal, professional and leadership-related activities; and other outreach efforts.

Show your support for TCU’s First-Gen students by downloading a purple First-Gen Zoom background here.

In 2019, the Center for First-Generation Student Success chose TCU as one of 80 higher-ed institutions in its 2019-2020 First-Gen Forward Cohort, which recognizes demonstrated commitment to advancing first-generation student success.

Below, First Gen Network staffers Cynthia Montes of SSS, Jamartae Jackson of Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services and Tyler Fisher of Student Development Services provided some insight on first-gen Horned Frogs:

What is TCU doing to grow the first-gen population?

We believe identification and support of first-generation college students is playing a huge role in growing this student population. It wasn’t until a few years ago that TCU even started asking for the first-gen identifier on their incoming applications. Now Admissions, as well as the Office of Institutional Research, are doing an excellent job of identifying these students, which brings us one step closer to supporting them in comprehensive ways.

What makes TCU such a good fit for first-gen students?

TCU is a good fit for first-generation college students because it provides multiple layers of support and is intentional in creating opportunities for connection and student development. Moreover, TCU is newer compared to neighboring institutions in its effort to specifically support FGCS. We have discovered this to be more advantageous than not. Since we formed the First Gen Network in 2017, we have seen our goals and efforts evolve to meet the needs of the current FGCS. We discovered we can be as creative as necessary and that TCU is open to progressive and original ways of supporting this student population. The encouragement by the administration to be innovative in our efforts is ever-present, which makes it fun for staff like us and promising for the first-gen students we support.

What makes first-gen students such a good fit for TCU?

Last year (2019-2020), TCU was selected and recognized nationally as a First-Gen Forward Institution. We were one of 80 universities to earn that designation and we continue with it through this year (2020-2021). What this means is, we are working consistently with regional institutions to explore ways to support FGCS, attending trainings, setting goals to support FGCS and reporting on progress. The accountability and support for staff who support FGCS is resulting in more robust programming efforts for the students.

TCU is on a steadfast course of creating a culture of inclusiveness, a climate of appreciation of diversity and a mission to brand itself as such. Bringing first-generation college students to campus not only adds to this rich culture of diversity to TCU, but also enhances learning by ensuring varying perspectives in and out of the classroom. TCU also is committed to enhancing the Fort Worth community, and, by ensuring first-gen students access to this prestigious institution, TCU ensures that, through education, it is elevating Fort Worthians for generations to come. As one of our interviewees said, “I can speak from experience as a born and raised Fort Worthian, who attended TCU as an undergraduate student and whose entire family (past, present and future) has been impacted by this fact.”

How did TCU welcome first-gen students to campus this fall?

For the first time ever this summer, the First Gen Network, in collaboration with First Year Experience, provided an orientation session for all first-gen students. Our goal was to provide resources of support and begin to foster a sense of belonging before fall classes commenced.

What are some of the typical first-semester challenges for these students?

There are a vast number of challenges faced by first-generation college students, many of which are typical for any college student learning to navigate this new chapter of their lives and some are specific to FGCS. For example, financial stressors are prevalent both for tuition and/or living expenses. Understanding how to access support resources is another struggle. While parents of FGCS are morally and emotionally supportive, there are limitations when it comes to helping their first-gen child navigate the college-going process. If these students don’t know where to turn for this kind of support, they tend to be confronted with many challenges on their journeys. However, with that said, this population is extremely resilient and some of the grittiest students we have ever seen. Given the opportunity, encouragement and the resources, these students tend to thrive.

What support resources does TCU have available to them?

Student Support Services, Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services, Student Development Services, First Gen Network, Ronald E. McNair, The Counseling Center, College of Education and First Gen Group.

There are most likely other support resources. Our goal this year is to compile a comprehensive list of supports for FGCS and, thus, better serve this population.

How has TCU had to adjust in providing support to these students during the pandemic?

TCU has provided many resources to help students receive an equitable education during this time. While these resources have not been designated as exclusively first-gen resources, FGCS have directly benefited from them. For example, TCU provided laptops, student emergency funds, needs assessments, food resources, etc.

How can faculty and staff best support these students?

Accessibility of faculty and willingness of FGCS to reach out to faculty has been a focus for quite a while. Now, during this pandemic where face-to-face interaction is limited, it is especially important that faculty are approachable and make themselves available to this student population. This may mean faculty and staff actively reach out to the FGCS instead of hoping the student makes an appointment. Also, a simple line in your syllabus and/or on your office door indicating you are a first-generation college student or you support first-gen college students could make a world of difference for the student. If you would like a sticker stating one or the other, please reach out to someone on our First Gen Network.

Our First Gen Network is compiling a list of faculty and staff who are first-gen themselves and/or who are organizing first-gen activities in their respective departments. If you fit this description, please reach out to someone in our First Gen Network.

Anything else we should know?

National First-Gen Celebration Day is Nov. 8. TCU will celebrate Nov. 6-9.

For information about the First Gen Network, contact Cynthia Montes, Student Support Services, Jamartae Jackson, Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services, and Tyler Fisher, Student Development Services.

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