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Catawba College Partners with National Nonprofit in Support of First-Generation College Students

February 9, 2015

Category: Academics, Students

Center for Student Opportunity's I'm First! project celebrates first-generation college students

logo-imfirst.pngTwenty-five percent of Catawba College's total day program undergraduates enrolled in fall 2014 classes were first generation college students. That is one of the reasons Catawba recently joined the nonprofit Center for Student Opportunity's (CSO) growing community of nearly 200 College Partners. Catawba, like other CSO College Partners, shares a commitment to supporting first-generation college students on campus.

Recognizing that students who don't have a family history of higher education too often lack access to good information and support to navigate the path to and through college, CSO partners with four-year colleges and universities to promote and strengthen college opportunities for first-generation college students. In addition to Catawba, other CSO College Partners in North Carolina include Davidson College, Duke University, Meredith College, N.C. A & T State University, N.C. State University, and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

It is estimated that 24 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions today are low income, first-generation college students. But 9 out of every 10 will not earn a bachelor's degree six years out from high school. They drop out of college at four times the rate of their peers whose parents have a postsecondary education.

Catawba College and CSO are working to change this trend. CSO's I'm First! project ( is an online community for aspiring first-generation college students — and those who advise them. The website, rich with student videos, blogs and advice, is an information hub through which students can research and connect with colleges like Catawba and learn about campus programs that support first-generation college students.

Catawba College is also featured in CSO's I'm First! Guide to College, the only comprehensive college guidebook for first-generation college-bound students.

Catawba, with an historic reputation for helping first-generation college students persist in their efforts to earn a bachelor's degree, has made even more targeted efforts with this population of its students in recent years. In June of 2010, Catawba was one of 30 Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) member colleges and universities selected through a competitive application process to receive the grants called CIC/Walmart College Success Awards. Catawba received a $100,000 award which it used to initiate activities in a program called NextGen.

NextGen targeted four different cohorts of its first-generation students. The funding allowed the institution to train and develop faculty and staff to work with first-year, first-generation students, fund the special activities designed to build social and cultural capital for these students who enrolled in the NextGen First Year Seminar, and target outreach activities to the families of first generation students.

Data collected about the last four years of NextGen First Year Seminar groups indicate that these students had a higher grade point average and higher retention rates than those of Catawba students who were in other First Year Seminars.

Catawba's Vice President of Enrollment Cindy Barr said the College's affiliation with CSO and its I'm First! program provides added resources that can be shared with prospective first-generation college students navigating their path into the right college for them.

“We are committed to offering programs and services that help all of our students reach their full potential and so we are very proud be in partnership with CSO and I'm First!. This is the kind of community and resource that can benefit prospective students and families when considering which college is right for them," Barr commented.

I'm First! is also a campaign collecting YouTube video stories from first-generation college student and graduates — like First Lady Michelle Obama! — that inspire and offer advice to the next generation of students who will be first.

Four-year colleges and universities that care about first-generation college students are invited to apply and must be accepted for inclusion in CSO's community of College Partners based on a demonstrated commitment to enrolling and graduating first-generation college students. In addition to promoting opportunities for first-generation college students on College Partner campuses via and the I'm First! Guide to College, CSO's College Partner learning community fosters opportunities for colleagues to share ideas, learn best-practices, and model successful programs for recruiting and retaining first-generation college students.

Center for Student Opportunity (CSO) is a national nonprofit based in Bethesda, Md. that empowers first-generation college students on the path to and through college. Since its inception in 2005, CSO has created tools and resources to help first-generation college students and their supporters — parents, counselors, and mentors — on the road to and through college. In addition to operating, CSO publishes the I'm First! Guide to College and maintains partnerships with colleges and universities across the country to promote and strengthen their campus efforts on behalf of first-generation college students.

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