About one in four of our incoming first year students at UK are classified as “first generation” – the first in their family to attend college. About one in three of our incoming transfer students are first generation college-going. Nationally, research shows that first generation students are less likely to remain in college through graduation than students from families where others have blazed that trail. The University of Kentucky’s Institutional Research office has data indicating the differences in four-, five- and six-year graduation rates between first-generation undergraduates and the overall population at UK, as well as the disparity in grade point averages. With every indicator, first generation students tend to fare less well than their peers at UK.
The inaugural First Scholars group, financed with $800,000 from the Suder Foundation from a competitive grant written by staff in the Division of Undergraduate Education and the UK Development Office, started classes in Fall 2010 under the leadership of Matthew Deffendall, formerly an academic advisor in Undergraduate Studies. The 100% retention rate of that first cohort compared to 82% retention in general at UK, and 74% for first-generation students. In May 2013, one of the inaugural cohort graduated a year early – see an earlier BluegrassBlade post on Anthony Cadle. Another student from this first of the First Scholars cohorts, Brittany Courtney, was featured in one of the new Student Success Colloquium televised roundtables.
On April 5, 2013, Senior Vice Provost for Student Success Dr. Dan O’Hair interviewed Brittany Courtney, an accounting major. In this clip, Brittany praises the “family atmosphere” of the First Scholars Program and the support she needed as someone who was first in her family to go to college. Dr. Ben Withers, Interim Assoc. Provost for Undergraduate Education, adds his perspective saying that First Scholars at UK “is a remarkable program … with a holistic attitude toward student retention.”
Despite the many accolades for this Program from Interim Provost Tracy and President Capilouto all the way to the Board of Trustees, the First Scholars’ staff and budget have suffered from the University’s austerity budgeting decisions. Sadly, the clearly documented results from the 1G Living Learning Community under the leadership of Kelly Hutchens (see earlier post about her leaving UK) will not likely be repeated since her position has been eliminated. The Suder Foundation grant is in its final year – and, by previous agreements under previous administrations, the University had promised to sustain and expand the First Scholars Program. It’s not clear to us here in the Division of Undergraduate Education at this time how this highly successful program will be supported by the University.