As a slew of recent national rankings attest, Centre College students are an impressive and hardworking bunch. One group that continually amazes is Centre’s first-generation college students, who make important campus contributions and maintain an outstanding graduation rate.
Over the past three years, the number of “first-gens,” as they are often called, has steadily increased at Centre. Currently, 15 percent of the student body are first-gens—up from 12 percent last year and 9 percent the year before—and they are exceptionally successful.
First-gen graduates in the Class of 2016 achieved an 89 percent graduation rate—especially impressive when compared to the 70 percent national average graduation rate for first-gens at all liberal arts colleges, not to mention the 80 percent graduation rate for the entire Centre Class of 2016. Some of these first-gen graduates are already pursuing exciting academic and professional opportunities, including postgraduate degrees in chemistry and ecology, working in higher education, interning for the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) and taking care of primates at the Houston Zoo.
Yet, even before they graduate, Centre first-gens are highly engaged on campus.
“We have found that first-generation students here hold proportionally more leadership roles on campus than continuous-generation students, according to our data from the National Survey of Student Engagement,” says Sarah Scott Hall, director of the Grissom Scholars Program and coordinator of Centre scholarship programs.
Two Centre first-gens represented the College at the annual GlobalMindED Conference in Denver over the summer. Stacy Crescencio ’18 and Grissom Scholar Emmely Ovalle ’19 worked with and got to know other first-gens from across the country through GlobalMindED, a nonprofit organization that gives these students a network of peers while teaching them professional skills and encouraging them to pursue degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The students were accompanied by Kiana Fields ’15, coordinator for Greek Life at Centre and a first-generation graduate.
Hall believes that first-generation students continue to come to Centre and enjoy success here in part because of the sense of community fostered by the College, especially the program that partners new first-gens with upperclassmen who have been through the same experience.
“As we’ve seen from the steady growth of first-generation students on campus, creating a welcoming and supportive atmosphere works,” Hall says. “Matching incoming first-generation students with upper class first-generation peers is one of the easiest ways to create a fun and supportive culture for both students.
“Another easy way to show students they are not alone is to connect with faculty and staff who are first-generation graduates,” she adds, noting that “over 50 faculty and staff serve as resources for first-generation students. Just knowing they are out there can make a world of difference.”
The Grissom Scholarship Program, one of Centre’s premier scholarships, also draws first-generation students to campus, as it offers a four-year, full-tuition-plus scholarship to ten incoming first-years who are specifically among the first generation in their families to attend college.
Clearly, Centre’s first-generation college students enrich campus life exponentially.
“We are lucky for having first-generation students on campus. It makes us a better place in so many ways,” Hall says. “As a group on our campus, first-generation students provide campus leadership and they tend to be independent, mature, positive, tough and hungry for opportunity.”
by Elizabeth Trollinger
September 30, 2016