Program for first-generation students to end

By Anna Spoerre, @ASpoerre_DE

First-generation students make up nearly 50 percent of the student body, interim Provost Susan Ford estimates.

The First Scholars program, which provides scholarships to first-generation students, launched at SIUC in fall of 2011. Twenty students are selected to receive $2,500 a semester for up to four years. The scholarship is awarded by the Suder Foundation, a national organization that created the program, which is also at six other universities.

Ford said the original agreement was that SIU would take over the costs of the program after four years. The university fully funded the program this year through donor contributions. However, Ford said additional donor support for the program has not been found, making this year’s class the last to participate. 


Janice Cox, a sophomore from West Palm Beach, Fla., studying biological sciences and chemistry, said she never intended to apply to SIUC until she read about the program on SIU’s website.

Cox said she wishes the program would continue for future classes because it’s beneficial for more students than just the scholars.

“I feel that without access to the university resources and support, especially for first generations, you’re setting them up to fail and … failure magnifies on minorities because it’s already the expectation,” said program director Cristina Castillo.

Cox said the program helped her become a better person by motivating her to do well in school, specifically in supporting her goal of attending medical school.

Students in the program participate in retreats, service projects and three mentoring sessions a semester.

“We’re just on our own figuring out how to do it because we don’t have advice from our parents,” Cox said. “So with the program in place, we can have someone to rely on and guide us throughout the year.”

Ford said the most critical time for success of a first generation student is the transition to college and the first year at the university.


“There are so many places for a student to make unwitting but devastating mistakes that challenge their ability to succeed through the first year,” she said.

Ford said she hopes to prevent this by starting a different program to support all first generation students at the university. 

Research from the Sudar foundation determined first-generation students benefit more from counseling and programming than financial support. The foundation is interested in partially funding a program coordinator position to oversee first generation students.

From fall 2013 to spring 2014, the overall SIU freshman retention rate was 86.9 percent for freshman, 86.5 percent for first-generation freshman and 96 percent for Sudar Scholars. 

Ford said she plans to fill the vacant positions of assistant provost and vice chancellor for enrollment management and retention by next year. In the same time, she wants to introduce personnel and programs to support first-generation students.

However, she said the budget impasse causes some uncertainty about available funds. 

“We stand to benefit greatly from the outcome of the study,” Ford said. “The numbers show that having an interventionist program can make a difference.”

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or @ASpoerre_DE