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WVU receives national recognition for commitment to first-generation students

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West Virginia University’s FirstGen Initiatives are being awarded the First-gen Forward designation. This designation provides WVU with access to additional professional development opportunities, community-building experiences, research and resources to improve WVU’s first-gen programming and campus life. (WVU Photo)

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After just one year of partnering with a national program aimed at improving first-generation student success, West Virginia University’s FirstGen Initiatives are being awarded the First-gen Forward designation.

The designation comes from the Center for First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation. The Center is home to the First Scholars Network, which WVU was selected to join in 2021 to help enhance the campus experience for first-generation students.

With this designation, WVU has access to additional professional development opportunities, community-building experiences, research and resources to bolster WVU’s first-gen programming

“The First-gen Forward designation honors the dedication of our campus team members as we work toward increasing first-gen retention rates,” said Evan Widders, associate provost for undergraduate education. “Although we’ve seen progress and a 7% increase in our first-gen retention rate since 2017, we know we have more work to do.”

Widders added that, as the University continues its Academic Transformation efforts, utilizing First-gen Forward resources and engaging with peer institutions will help WVU work toward closing the achievement gap for its first-gen population as well as enhance student success opportunities and improve retention for all students.

Since joining the First Scholars Network, the University has ramped up efforts to build a more dynamic, expansive network of tailored first-gen resources and scalable programming.

In 2021, the Office of the Provost and the Office of Student Success completed a campus-wide diagnostic self-assessment to identify strengths as well as areas of growth and improvement to assist first-generation students. A new steering committee of first-gen advocates has been formed to help advance University projects and priorities.

Additionally, several University members are currently completing a campus-wide auditing process to expand accountability for student success. They are also reviewing policies and procedures that may hinder student success, not only for first-gen students, but all WVU students.

In addition to these efforts, the University has launched a data analytics dashboard system to provide more streamlined and accurate information about its first-gen population. The FirstGen Initiatives team has also created a new student organization for first-generation students to meet each other, find a sense of belonging on campus and share common experiences. This organization will also help inform future needs and programming ideas for these students.

WVU now joins over 275 participating institutions that have received the First-gen Forward designation and will take part in the 2022-2023 cohort of 53 higher education institutions.

“The Center is pleased to welcome West Virginia University into the 2022-23 First-gen Forward cohort,” Sarah E. Whitley, assistant vice president for the Center for First-generation Student Success, said. “Through the application process, it was evident that WVU 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.”

FirstGen Initiatives is housed in the Office of Student Success, a division overseen by the Office of the Provost to help students succeed in their courses, stay enrolled and graduate in a timely manner.

Find out more about WVU’s first-generation efforts.



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