- Special Reports
LEXINGTON, Ky. – A new program at the University of Kentucky aims to help first-generation college students meet challenges and stay in school.
The First Generation Initiatives was spawned from a project in 2010 called First Scholars that offered mentoring and scholarships to 20 incoming freshmen whose parents didn’t go to college. After a year in the program, all 20 were still enrolled in school.
General student retention rates at UK are 82 percent, but that falls to 74 percent for first-generation students.
The First Scholars data “raised some eyebrows in the provost’s office,” said Matthew Deffendall, who oversaw it last year. “So we just started asking, what can we do to help larger groups of students?”
Deffendall told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he used ideas from the project to come up with First Generation Initiatives. The program provides aid and support to all 900 or so first-generation students at the university.
“We’re trying to build a support structure and a community, so they have a place they can feel at home,” Deffendall said.
Student Jennifer Doan said the First Scholars program helped her get through after a very difficult first month.
“I was very lonely,” Doan said. “It’s so big, and you really don’t know anybody. When I had a problem, I didn’t know who to go to. No one in my family told me anything about it because they didn’t know. Matthew really helped me to realize I needed to take it slow, instead of rushing and being overwhelmed.”
Brittany Courtney, who attended a small high school in Frankfort, said attending college was a difficult transition.
“It was like a slap in the face,” Courtney said of her freshman year at UK. “There was such a big culture shock with everything.”
But she got into the First Scholars program a week after school began.
“The one-on-one attention and the resources really helped a lot,” she said.
Associate Provost Mike Mullen, who oversees the division of undergraduate education, said UK is focusing on making first-generation students successful.
“Anything we can do to bolster that group has a positive impact on the bottom line,” he said. “More importantly, do we then get those kids to think about what long-term success looks like?”