January 23, 2024

Empowering First-Generation Students: A Conversation with Kevin Kruger

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2023 Philanthropy Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas. During the event, we heard from many impactful speakers in the philanthropy space. I followed up with, a prominent organization in the field of higher education.We spoke more around the groundbreaking work being done by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, an initiative jointly developed by NASPA and the Suder Foundation. Kruger, who is at the helm of this inspiring venture, shared valuable insights into the challenges faced by first-generation students and how the Center is making a substantial impact.

Center for First Generation Student Success Students Meeting

The Birth of the Center
The Center for First-Generation Student Success emerged from a unique partnership between NASPA and the Suder Foundation. While the Suder Foundation had been providing scholarships for first-generation students at various institutions, NASPA had been engaged in broader student success initiatives. This partnership aimed to create a national entity focused on aiding colleges and universities in their efforts to enhance the success of first-generation students. What began with just one employee has now grown to a team of 27, and their vision is to work with 250-300 institutions over the next several years. The Center leverages research and data to assist institutions in tailoring their policies, practices, and support systems for the benefit of first-generation students.

The Importance of First-Generation Students
First-generation students come from diverse backgrounds, and a significant proportion are students of color. With the changing demographics of high school students, reaching out to first-generation students is not only a matter of diversity but also of practicality. As more high school students fall into the first-generation category, institutions need to adapt their strategies to attract and retain them. This has become particularly relevant as affirmative action policies have faced challenges. Focusing on first-generation students is a way to enhance diversity without encountering legal issues.

The Role of Branding and Web Design
I had to ask Kruger about the role of branding in higher education. Branding extends beyond logos and visuals; it encompasses messaging, communication, and the overall experience. The importance of branding becomes evident when trying to attract and retain first-generation students. It’s essential to create a welcoming atmosphere and clear messaging that reflects the institution’s commitment to serving these students. The brand and website experience needs to be accessible and show that a college education is attainable even if a student is the first in their family to pursue it.

Factors for Student Success
Our conversation also delved into the factors that contribute to the success of first-generation students. Some key elements include providing academic coaching, reducing academic advising ratios, and offering mentorship programs. Predictive analytics play a vital role in identifying struggling students and providing timely support. Additionally, reconfiguring data systems to track the progress of first-generation students is essential to tailor interventions effectively.

Challenges and Opportunities
Kruger acknowledged the financial challenges facing many institutions and the overwhelming demands on college leaders. Navigating competing interests in higher education can be a daunting task. However, he pointed out that even in challenging times, the Center’s work remains crucial, and their vision of making higher education accessible to all is unwavering.

Our conversation shed light on the remarkable work being done to support first-generation students. The Center for First-Generation Student Success, through its research, partnerships, and advocacy, is creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for first-generation students. The role of branding, web design, and responsive communication is essential in ensuring that institutions can effectively serve these students.

As we move forward, it’s clear that higher education needs to adapt to the changing landscape and continue to embrace diversity and inclusivity, making sure that every student, regardless of their background, has an equal opportunity for success.