Cornell College gets $250,000 grant for first-generation college students

Cornell College has received a $250,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to help ensure first-generation college students succeed. The money will be used to create a professional orientation and development program for first-generation college students.
Twenty-seven percent of Cornell College’s most recent first-year class were first-generation college students. First-generation college students tend to face more challenges than others including less knowledge about how to navigate college and post-graduate life and lower self-confidence.

A 2010 paper in the Journal of College Student Development showed that attending a liberal arts college had the most beneficial effect on first-generation students. The small class size, academic rigor, and interactions with faculty all prove helpful for students whose parents haven’t attended college.

“Liberal arts colleges are the best places for first-generation college students because of the opportunities for extra support,” Sue Astley, professor of psychology and faculty director for the Cornell Fellows internship program, said, “even if they might not be among the first places the students think to attend.”

The program will include one-on-one mentoring with faculty, workshops and guidance for students, and assistance obtaining internships and fellowships to prepare students for further education or a career after graduation. Within four years, the program aims to match the percentage of first-generation and non-first generation students who complete internships, enter graduate schools, and perform research with faculty.

Astley came up with the idea for the grant and wrote the proposal to the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation. She said that in her work advising students she’s seen that some first-generation college students are at a small disadvantage compared to students whose parents have completed college, simply because they don’t have the same insight of how to best utilize college resources before coming to Cornell.

They might, for example, not know to look for internships early in their college careers, or might think that graduate school isn’t a realistic goal. A faculty mentor will be able to help with advising, she said, and also help build the students’ confidence—to show them how to plan for a successful future and take the steps necessary to achieve it.

“There will always be challenges for them,” she said, “but the mentors will help the students persist through those challenges.”

Cornell College President Jonathan Brand said the program will build on the advantages schools like Cornell College already offer, and will help ensure students graduate and are well-prepared for careers or post-graduate education.

“We know that a college education offers lifelong benefits and opportunities,” Brand said, “and we believe that Cornell College’s commitment to strong faculty-student mentoring relationships and small class sizes offer more advantages to students from every background. This new program will help the college ensure the success of first-generation college students to the benefit of society as a whole. Cornell College is grateful for the generous support of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations for this important new project.”