When you’re the first person in your family to attend college, it’s exciting. It can also be frustrating, confusing, scary and discouraging.
Helping first-generation students has been a focus for Missouri State University for the last several years. The university created:
- MSU: I’m First, a student organization for first-generation students that builds community.
- Specialized advising.
- Scholarship opportunities specifically for first-generation students.
- Other resources to make the transition to college easier.
Now, a Title III cooperative grant project between the Springfield and West Plains campuses will continue to build support systems for retaining these students.
“First-generation students are trail blazers,” said Dr. Kelly Wood, associate provost for student success at MSU. “They come to us with drive and determination to represent their families and to be successful in college. With that, they also put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed.”
With the $2.6 million grant, the two campuses will improve career readiness and financial literacy programming.
“These students need our help. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by unfamiliar processes, like student financial aid,” said President Clif Smart. “We are extremely grateful for the leadership of Senator Roy Blunt, as well as both Representatives Billy Long and Jason Smith, in securing this funding for MSU. It will remove a major stumbling block for some of our first-generation students.”
Recently, the West Plains campus announced additional funding for academic programs that fulfill current workforce needs.
Understanding financial aid
For the financial literacy initiatives, Wood said the university will develop videos for incoming first-generation students that focus on:
- Understanding college costs.
- Reviewing the billing statement to make timely payments.
- Understanding the financial aid offer.
- Preparing for the second year.
To further assist these students:
- Staff will send reminders about upcoming deadlines.
- Peer mentors will encourage students to view the videos in the First Year Foundations course.
- Financial aid counselors will be available for text, email or in-person questions.
“When we as an institution don’t provide clear guidance or supportive outreach, first-generation students can stumble and find it hard to recover,” Wood said. “Our goal is to provide the information they need, at the right time, with the right message.”