K-State First strives to help first year students have a smooth and successful transition into college. Gaining support both in and out of the classroom is key to a successful first year for many students. While the transition to college can generally be challenging for first year students being a first generation college student can add a whole new level of challenges.
By definition, first generation college students are students who are the first in their immediate families to attend college. This means that neither of their parents/guardians have received a bachelor’s degree. First generation college students are a target population that K-State First is working hard to get connected with in order to offer additional support and resources to help students strive for a successful first year and beyond. One major way that K-State First is striving to connect first generation students is through CAT Communities. CAT Communities are groups of 20-25 students that take 3 similar courses together throughout the semester. CAT Communities are separated based on common topics including major based programs, college readiness skills, and general interest areas. There are multiple types of CAT Communities including residential, non-residential, and student success. The residential CAT Communities specialize in having students that are a part of the CAT Community live in the same residence hall together as well as take assigned course together. Non-residential CAT Communities allow students to live anywhere on or off campus that they’d like while still taking similar courses. Finally, a recent 2016 addition to the CAT Community options is the student success CAT Community. These communities focus on college success strategies such as time management, study skills, and beyond.
First generation college students tend to be less involved on campus due to potential work schedules, challenging college courses, and family commitments (Inkleas, Daver, Vogt, & Leonard, 2007). By having first generation students involved in CAT Communities they will likely be able to connect with their peers and faculty member not only over the course materials, but also through common interests and bonds formed as they build relationships. CAT Communities are designed to offer various support and resources to students both socially and academically. This could be a major benefit to first generation students as they are navigating college with the potential of nobody significantly close to them having previously experienced what they currently are. There is research to support the connection of first generation students involved with programs similar to CAT Communities have a very positive academic and social transition throughout their first year (Inkleas, Daver, Vogt, & Leonard, 2007). During her first year on campus, Kansas State University sophomore Montezia Shakespear, was a part of the residential CAT Community, First Scholars, which primarily focuses on supporting first generation students. Shakespear recalls her time being a part of a CAT Community as being something very special to her and pivotal to her success in college. “My experience being a part of the First Scholars CAT Community created a support group of people in the same shoes as me to look up to when times got hard. We have worked together to achieve academic greatness”.
When looking at enrollment numbers from previous academic years there is a significant representation of first generation students at Kansas State University. Based specifically off of the 2016 academic year enrollment numbers of the total amount of first year students 24.9% of these students were identified as first generation college students. With nearly a quarter of the first year student population being first generation there are many opportunities for K-State first to work to connect these individuals to various resources and support services. There are a multitude of benefits in students being involved with K-State First. For example, taking a closer look at first generation student retention numbers from a student’s first year to second year on campus students involved with CAT Communities only had a dropout rate of 5.3% in comparison to their non K-State first involved peers at 12.9%. Moreover, looking specifically at four year retention rates first generation students involved with a CAT Community had an overall dropout rate of 9.7% rather than their non K-State First involved peers at 16.8%. From a retention stand point, first generation students are more likely to persist to graduation if they are involved with K-State First programs.
Recognizing that there are many benefits, both socially and academically, for first generation students who are involved with CAT Communities it is necessary that K-State First continues to strive to recruit and connect these students to our programs. While this can prove to be a challenge, it is critical that we are not only supporting the first generation student in their transition to college, but also equally supporting their families in the process. Family connection and support is often critical to first generation student success (Inkleas, Daver, Vogt, & Leonard, 2007). By striving to answer questions and also get families connected to K-State First there are many potential benefits that could be present to the student.
The benefits of first generation students being involved within CAT Communities are endless. This benefit is noted by a previous First Scholar CAT Community member, Gerald Frayre, “First Scholars has provided me with a support system to fall back on in difficult times as well a family to celebrate the good times with. I never felt alone during my college transition because I had my peers who could relate to my situation and family background. Also, being exposed to a variety of campus resources in the classroom has allowed me to build on my work experience, which carries on for the rest of my life”. Looking forward, K-State First will continue to strive to support first year students. K-State First also will continue to strive to have a focus on connecting first generation college students to programs that will help to simplify their transition to college both socially and academically.
Inkleas, K., Daver, Z., Vogt, K., & Leonard, J. (June 2007). Living—learning programs and first-generation college students’ academic and social transition to college. Research in Higher Education, 48(4), 403-434.
by Andrea Dreyer