Nou Thao, left, and Debie Ikenador are among the students who celebrate Sacramento State's efforts on behalf of "first-generation" members of the University community. (Sacramento State/First-gen Forward Institute)
By Cynthia Hubert
More than a third of Sacramento State’s students are “first generation,” meaning that neither of their parents earned a university degree.
Because of its commitment to help those students succeed, Sac State has been named a First-gen Forward Institution. It joins an elite community of colleges that share knowledge, best practices and troubleshooting strategies meant to support students who are role models to their families but often feel lost and overwhelmed on campus.
The program is part of the Center for First-generation Student Success, which was launched in 2017 by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the Suder Foundation.
Sac State has a variety of initiatives focusing on first-generation students, said Chao Vang of the university’s Student Academic Success & Educational Equity Programs (SASEEP).
Its First Generation Institute works to foster a sense of belonging for students who identify as “first gen,” and help them parlay their college experiences into the working world and put them on a path toward becoming professionals.
Sac State’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) offers admissions assistance, a special orientation session, academic advising, financial aid assistance, and course planning, among other services. The Full Circle Project is designed to improve graduation rates for traditionally underserved and first-generation students. The DEGREES Project features peer advising, leadership training, and internships, among other opportunities.
The First-gen Forward designation “helps us generate knowledge to advance the success of our students, and puts a national spotlight on our institution,” said Vang, who was a first-generation college student and one of four in his family to graduate from Sac State.
Vang and Ed Mills, Sac State’s vice president for Student Affairs, will travel to Baltimore in June to join representatives of institutions across the country in discussing strategies for improving outcomes for students who are the first in their families to attend college.
“We are very excited to be recognized for our work with first-generation students,” Mills said. “As a ‘first gen’ student myself, I feel very connected to the challenges experienced by our students and I’m proud of our continuing efforts to provide support.”
At Sac State, 34 percent of students identify as first generation, statistics show. Many of them face cultural, financial and language barriers that impede their success, Vang said. Among their challenges is a lack of knowledge about getting into college and navigating campus, and pressure from relatives who may rely on them to act as translators and help support their families.
More than half of Sac State’s first-generation students receive federal Pell grants, and 19 percent complete their bachelor’s degrees within four years.
Marcellene Watson-Derbigny, Sac State’s associate vice president for Student Retention & Academic Success, said she is pleased about the University’s new status as an institution that places emphasis on helping first-generation students.
The honor “is noteworthy,” she said. “It builds on our current work to bolster the achievement of first-generation students” and aligns with Sac State’s and the CSU’s efforts to boost graduation rates among all students.
Sac State joins 77 other institutions, including CSU Channel Islands and UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara, in being selected this year for the program.