Catawba College has served first-generation college students since its founding in 1851. The CIC/Walmart College Success Award allowed the college to use innovative techniques to achieve two goals in its NextGen Project: to increase the social and cultural capital of first-generation, first-year students and to increase retention in this group of students.
The project used three existing programs to accomplish these goals: faculty and staff development, the First-Year Seminar, and outreach to families of first-generation students. The professional development effort had faculty and staff participating in a summer workshop to discuss readings about the needs of first-generation students. The effort was led by three experts in the first-year experience and emphasized the special needs of first-generation college students and their families. Faculty members were able to incorporate ideas and techniques from these sessions into their seminars and classes.
The First-Year Seminar, which all incoming students take, is a topical seminar combining content, study skills, college survival counseling, and academic advising. The seminars emphasize the development of critical reading and writing skills. The CIC/Walmart Award enabled Catawba to offer special NextGen sections of the seminar dedicated to the unique challenges of first-generation students. In each instance the instructors were tenured or tenure-track faculty members who were first-generation students themselves, as were the teaching fellows. The seminar instructor served as the academic adviser for the students in her/his section.
In addition to the seminar, first-generation students and their families received an enhanced orientation. The orientation included an orientation manual for parents that was developed during the grant period and is now provided to families of all incoming students.
To enhance the social and cultural capital of these first-generation college students, the project included a group travel experience to Washington, DC, in January after their first semester. In both years, the group included students who had never visited Washington and students who had never traveled by air. While in Washington, students visited cultural sites and museums, attended performances at the Kennedy Center, and attended a professional basketball game.
The NextGen Project aimed to strengthen the institution through increased retention of first-generation students, partly through increased social and cultural capital. The project achieved these goals and also helped improve academic performance. The GPA of students in these sections was higher than the overall college GPA. The first cohort of first-generation students who entered in fall 2010 had a lower GPA than all first-year students (first-generation = 2.619, all first-year = 2.736) at the end of their first year. But the first-generation students in the NextGen First-Year Seminar were retained at a higher rate in the fall of their second year (first-generation = 82.4 percent, all first-year = 71.04 percent).
Catawba has received partial funding to continue the program from North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities and is in the process of seeking further support.