Arizona College Celebrates First-Gen Students

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Courtesy of Arizona Western College

In an effort to combat stereotypes and poverty, one Arizona college has come up with a creative way to engage its largely first-generation student population.

Sixty-six percent of Arizona Western College’s nearly 8,000 undergrads identify as first-gen students. And according to recent data from the Community College Benchmark Project, 22 percent of Arizona Western’s students have annual family incomes of less than $20,000. The median family income for the school is $34,200.

“We wanted to very deliberately and proactively and quite audaciously say it would be the vision of this college to seek to eliminate poverty, and in order to do that, it’s through education and attention on first-generation students,” Daniel Corr, Arizona Western’s president, told Inside Higher Ed.

But many of these students face barriers that go beyond financial challenges. As first-generation students, they often don’t see themselves fitting in on a college campus.

“They sometimes don’t have a role model at home. They doubt they truly belong in a college environment. Financial aid is daunting. Registration is daunting,” Corr said.

In response, the college launched its “I Am First Gen” campaign, creating T-shirts and establishing a First-Generation College Student Day in November. First-gen students will even wear special stoles at graduation.

Members of the school’s staff, about 40 percent of which also identify as first-generation, were encouraged to participate and showcase the kind of life students could have post-graduation.

“We wanted to turn first-generation student status into a badge of honor,” Corr said. “We wanted to let our students know when you’re in that class of 21 [students], 14 of them, on average, [are] first-generation. You’re not alone.”

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at adobson@nacacnet.org.

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