Forum Addresses Economic Impact of First-Generation Students

The University of Utah recognizes the value and importance of a college education. As a first-generation student, I also personally understand the life-changing impact of higher education.

It was a pleasure to participate in a forum hosted by the U and The Economic Club of Utah on November 12.  It was also an honor to share the podium with Kim Clark, president of BYU Idaho, Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, and Deneece Hufatlin, president of  Salt Lake Community College. We all share a common goal; to bring down the barriers that limit access to higher education for first-generation students.

At the University of Utah, first-generation students form a large part of the student body. The number of first-time freshman, who declare as first-generation students, is 32 percent, which is up ten percent from a decade ago.  They are a critical component of our student population.

The University is working diligently to support the dreams of first-generation students. This fall, more than a thousand new scholarships were created to reward achievement and promote completion, but a critical part of that scholarship money is also earmarked to ensure access to students who need a hand-up to achieve their goals. The Utah Promise scholarship matches the amount of Pell Grants. The population served by this scholarship is largely comprised of first-generation college students.

Holistic admissions, implemented after I took office in 2012, opened the door of opportunity to not only first-generation students, but also those from underrepresented populations. This year the U doubled the number of incoming freshman who fall into that category. Under the new guidelines, the university also admitted a freshman class with the highest GPA and ACT scores (as a whole) on record at the University of Utah.

We want all of our students to succeed. To that end, we have added more advisors, counselors, and programs and support services that ensure students get on track and stay the course through graduation.

Graduation is critical.  Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. jobs will require a form of postsecondary education by 2020.  Governor Herbert set forth the 66 by 2020 challenge with the knowledge that a strong economy is dependent on a highly educated workforce.  As we contemplate how to meet the workforce needs, we must look to every student population for success. The first-generation college students are a critical component.

The forum offered a snapshot into the complexity of attracting and retaining first-generation students. It was enlightening to hear from the other presidents as they expressed their views on our common challenges.  Together, we strive to ensure a better future for these, and all students, and the communities we serve.