ATU Recognized for Serving First-Generation Students

Jerry and First Gen Student November 2019

Arkansas Tech University is one of 77 higher education institutions nationwide — and one of just two four-year universities in Arkansas — to earn a place in the 2020-21 First-gen Forward Cohort.

The Center for First-generation Student Success established the honor as a means of recognizing institutions that have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students.

Selected institutions receive professional development, community-building experiences and a first look at the center’s research and resources.

Systematic approaches to enhancing first-generation student success at Arkansas Tech University have included the development of the ATU First Generation Institute. The summer program allows high school students from across Arkansas to interact with current ATU students, discover the academic opportunities available at Arkansas Tech, experience life as a college student, learn how to finance their education, tour the ATU campus and gain insight on becoming involved in campus life.

ATU was an active participant in the national First Generation College Celebration 2019. Personnel from the ATU Department of Campus Life set up informational tables on campus and surveyed first-generation college students at ATU. The university is applying data from those surveys to develop initiatives directed at the first-generation population.

During spring 2020, the ATU Department of Campus Life is hosting a series of Wednesday Workshop events to provide college success skills to first-generation students.

Dr. Keegan Nichols, ATU vice president for student affairs, and Dr. Brett Bruner, ATU dean of student engagement, are leading scholars in the field of first-generation student success.
Their paper, “The Perceived Role of Parents and Family Members of First-Generation College Students On Transition,” was published in the community literature for the 2019 National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Conference.

In January 2019, more than 400 participants registered to participate in a Bruner-led American College Personnel Association’s Commission on Admissions, Orientation and First Year Experience webinar about supporting first-generation students.

“We are pleased that Arkansas Tech University is receiving recognition for its efforts to facilitate success by first-generation college students,” said Nichols. “We are intentional about serving populations that have an identified need for additional support in achieving their academic goals. First-generation students have been part of the fabric of ATU dating back to its founding in 1909. This distinction is evidence that our university community recognizes the role of first-generation students on our campuses and seeks to be an engaged partner in collaborating on first-generation student issues at a national level.”

Founded by NASPA and the Suder Foundation, the Center for First-generation Student Success has four strategic priorities that guide its programming for affiliated institutions:

  • Build engaged communities across higher education that foster, recognize and celebrate excellence in serving first-generation student success;
  • Develop and promote scholarly research and data-informed practice as the primary clearinghouse for post-secondary education to advance first-generation student persistence and completion;
  • Create innovative programs, drive evidence-based solutions and provide professional development opportunities designed to drive systemic, scalable impact in improving first-generation student success; and
  • Be a catalyst and thought leader for advancing critical first-generation student success conversations through national convenings, advocacy and policy influence.

“The Center for First-generation Student Success is so pleased to welcome Arkansas Tech University into the 2020-21 cohort of First-gen Forward institutions,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “Through the application process, it was evident that ATU 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.”

The University of Arkansas-Fayetteville is the only other four-year university in Arkansas to earn a place in the 2020-21 First-gen Forward Cohort. Northwest Arkansas Community College represents the Natural State among two-year institutions in the cohort.