Presbyterian College is one of only two South Carolina colleges to receive national designation this year.

Presbyterian College is one of only 77 colleges and universities in the country to be named a First-gen Forward Institution. Only two colleges in South Carolina were added to the 2020-21 cohort of First-gen Forward Institutions.

The First-gen Forward designation honors institutions of higher education for their commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students.

“It was really exciting when we learned we earned this designation,” said Amy Davis, director of Academic Success and Retention. The Academic Success office is the hub for the college’s first-generation programming, Presby First+.

“With this, the college has access to schools that are doing cutting-edge research and evidence-based practices on first-gen success. There’s some professional development, and then, also, the recognition of being a First-gen Forward institution I thought would be something great for PC, and something we could build upon.”

The designation was made by the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation.

Selected institutions receive professional development, community-building experiences and a first look at the center’s research and resources.

“I saw this as an opportunity to create a niche program for our students and be something unique as a private college in South Carolina,” Davis said.

Presby First+ provides on-campus events and programming for first-gen students. It supports them through a network of peers, faculty and staff advocates and mentors.

Each year, at least one academic workshop is provided to faculty regarding best practices for teaching and supporting first-generation students. There are also new student-orientation sessions for first-generation students and families.

In January, Stephanie Keene began serving as associate director of Academic Success and Presby First+ coordinator. Keene was a first-generation student and feels passionate about the college’s programming.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Keene accompanied students for an off-campus cultural event to see the musical Les Misérables at the Peace Center in Greenville. Keene has remained connected with students during the remote learning period and is currently planning for fall.

“The center is so pleased to welcome PC into the 2020-21 cohort of First-gen Forward institutions,” said Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success. “Through the application process, it was evident that PC is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students, but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies for significant scaling and important advances in the future.”

The name of the Presby First+ program, Keene said, is essential to ensure its inclusivity for all first-generation students from different racial, economic, gender and other backgrounds.

“The plus is very important because many students, particularly first-generation students, have those intersectional identities,” she said. “I want to empower our students, and I want them to represent themselves and be proud that they are first-gen.”

As a First-gen Forward Institution, select PC faculty and staff will be afforded multiple opportunities to engage with peer and aspirational institutions who are also creating environments that improve the experiences and outcomes of first-generation students.

After two successful years in the program, institutions are eligible to apply for the advisory leadership designation.

“First-gen Forward is an exciting opportunity for PC to join an elite community of professionals prepared to share evidence-based practices and resources, troubleshoot challenges, generate knowledge and continue to advance the success of first-generation students across the country,” said Kevin Kruger, president and CEO of NASPA. “We are excited to see a groundswell of activity from the First-gen Forward cohort and know PC will be a significant contributor.”

To learn more about first-generation efforts at PC, please visit Presby First+.

Submitted by Stacy Dyer