UNK recognized for commitment to first-generation student success

KEARNEY – The Center for First-generation Student Success has selected the University of Nebraska at Kearney as part of its 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort.

The First-gen Forward designation recognizes higher education institutions demonstrating 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. First-gen Forward is an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the Suder Foundation.

Gilbert Hinga
Gilbert Hinga

“National attention for first-generation success is important because it demonstrates to students and others that we are successful with first-generation Lopers,” said Gilbert Hinga, UNK dean of student affairs. “Through this partnership, we will learn about and implement additional practices that will increase this success. Students will be the primary beneficiaries of this program.”

At UNK, roughly 4 in 10 students are in the first generation of their families completing a bachelor’s degree, which is slightly higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Despite continuing efforts in higher education to remediate barriers to first-generation college students’ access and success, first-generation students are less likely to attain a degree, especially in a timely way. Barriers can be college-readiness, financial need or a lack of opportunity or confidence among students and their families. Programs at the national and campus levels help generate that confidence and yield success, Hinga said.

UNK’s First-Generation leadership team, led by David Luker and Aaron Estes, supports these students through a comprehensive enrollment and success plan. First-generation students’ successes are continually celebrated during events such as UNK’s First Gen Day, which coincides with the National First-Generation College Celebration.

Sarah Whitley
Sarah Whitley

“The center is so pleased to welcome UNK into the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort,” said Sarah Whitley, assistant vice president of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “Through the application process, it was evident that the University of Nebraska at Kearney is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population.”

As a First-gen Forward institution, UNK faculty and staff will engage with peer institutions who are also creating environments that improve the experiences and outcomes of first-generation students. Selected institutions will send representatives to workshops and conferences and participate in monthly calls, virtual professional development, goal setting, content development, annual reporting and other activities. After two successful years in the program, institutions are eligible for selection to the advisory leadership.

First-gen Forward currently recognizes and supports more than 200 diverse institutions across three cohorts, all of which continue to lead the nation through their commitment to first-generation student success, Whitley said.

NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education leads the advancement, health and sustainability of the student affairs profession. Its work provides professional development, advocacy and research for 15,000 members in all 50 states, 25 countries and eight U.S. territories.

Learn more about UNK’s first-generation initiatives and programs at unk.edu/firstgen