The University of California today (August 23) announced that all 10 UC campuses will join together this fall in a systemwide effort to connect first-generation students with faculty mentors who have walked in their shoes, and to facilitate access to resources to help these students continue to succeed.
UC has long served as an engine of economic mobility for all Californians, regardless of income or family background. This fall, an estimated 45 percent of California freshmen — about 16,500 students — will be among the first in their families working to earn a four-year university degree. Across the UC system, some 42 percent of all UC undergraduate students are first-generation college students.
Nearly 900 faculty across UC’s 10 campuses who were themselves the first generation to graduate college have signed up to participate in the coordinated mentorship effort. During the first week of classes, they will don T-shirts and pins identifying themselves as the first in their families to graduate from college, immediately positioning themselves as mentors and boosting new students’ sense of belonging.
“Educating first-generation students is a big part of what this university is about,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “When faculty members identify themselves as mentors who have experienced many of the same circumstances and challenges, it creates an environment where students are more comfortable seeking guidance. Students are inspired to achieve.”
These mentorship efforts will complement existing dedicated programs on every UC campus that provide academic counseling, financial advising and assistance, and networking opportunities to first-generation students. A growing number of UC campuses now offer first-generation student housing, with UCLA opening a new “First To Go” Living Learning Community this fall that provides an extra layer of faculty and staff assistance and a fostered support system of first-generation peers. Many UC campuses also offer summer bridge programs and workshops designed to ease first-generation students’ transition to college.
To kick off the coordinated mentoring and outreach effort, UC today released a new report, “First-Generation Student Success at the University of California,” that explores how UC empowers first-generation students at every stage to achieve their goals — from outreach and preparation in middle and high school, to the comprehensive admissions review process, to dedicated support on every UC campus.
UC also launched a systemwide website, firstgen.universityofcalifornia.edu, as a resource for current and prospective first-generation UC students and their families. In addition to serving as a one-stop portal for on-campus and national resources, the website includes leadership profiles of dozens of first-generation UC students, staff, alumni and faculty — including five UC chancellors who were the first in their families to earn a four-year degree.
Educating first-generation students is a critical component of UC’s mission of education, research and public service. In a time of deepening inequality, with many colleges and universities struggling to serve this vital population of students, UC is showing the way with a comprehensive approach to preparing, enrolling and graduating large numbers of first-generation students, driving social and economic mobility across California and the nation.
First-generation student success at UC: By the numbers
- Nearly 900 faculty members across all 10 UC campuses have stepped up to participate in our systemwide first-generation mentorship effort. Faculty have committed to wearing T-shirts and lapel pins identifying themselves as first-generation graduates and prospective mentors. Every UC undergraduate campus also maintains a dedicated program that supports first-generation students through academic support, financial advising and networking.
- UC serves more first-generation students than other institutions of its caliber. An estimated 42 percent of UC students are first-generation college students, up from 36 percent a decade ago. This fall, more than 40 percent of all new freshmen and transfer students — about 30,000 students — will be among the first in their families working to earn a four-year university degree. UC enrolls a higher proportion of first-generation students than other selective public institutions (27 percent) and selective private institutions (18 percent), and more than the national average for all four-year institutions (36 percent).
- UC academic preparation and outreach programs put first-generation students on an early path to college. UC’s academic preparation and outreach programs — which reached first-generation and low-income students in more than 1,100 K–12 public schools and all 113 California community colleges in 2015–16 — serve as a vital pipeline preparing students from all backgrounds to enroll and succeed in college. Once they’re ready to apply, UC’s comprehensive review admissions policy is designed to ensure that students from all California high schools, including less-resourced schools, have the opportunity to gain admission.
- First-generation students don’t just attend UC – they thrive. Eighty-one percent of UC first-generation students graduate within six years, a significantly higher rate than the national six-year graduation rate for all undergraduates at public institutions (about 60 percent), and a counterpoint to troubling national figures: studies have found that only 11 to 50 percent of first-generation students earned a degree in six years. In UC experience surveys, the majority of first-generation students report a sense of belonging on campus and satisfaction with their UC experience, at the same level as their peers.
- A UC degree expands future earning power for first-generation graduates. The earnings of first-generation UC graduates far exceed those of California residents with a high school degree alone, whose median income of $27,963 they surpass just two years after graduation. And as a group, first-generation UC students who entered the university between 2005 and 2014 surpassed their parents’ median household income just six years after the students earned their degrees.
- Five of UC’s 10 chancellors are first-generation graduates. UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman, UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland, UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox, UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block were the first in their families to earn a four-year university degree. Learn about their journeys and those of other first-generation UC faculty, students, staff and alumni at firstgen.universityofcalifornia.edu.