What is a First-Generation (First-Gen) College Student

  • first-generation college student is defined as a student whose parent(s)/legal guardian(s) have not completed a bachelor's degree.
  • Ultimately, the term “first-generation” implies the possibility that a student may lack the critical cultural capital necessary for college success because their parents did not attend college. While first-generation students are often quite academically skilled and contribute in many ways to a campus community, navigating the tangled web of college policies, procedures, jargon, and expectations can be a challenge. This pervasive “hidden curriculum” can damage the confidence of first-generation students, lead to struggles in belonging, and result in departure. This opens an opportunity for institutions to provide additional support for these students so they may be as competitive and successful as their peers.

Facts about First-Generation Students at AWC

  • About 66% of AWC’s student population is made up of first-generation college goers, which is the largest percentage of any other community college in Arizona and one of the highest percentages of community colleges in the U.S.
  • Roughly 40% of Arizona Western's faculty and staff members self-identify as being first-generation students.


History & Purpose of National First-Generation College Celebration

In 2017, the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-generation Student Success launched the inaugural First-Generation College Celebration! Given the continued success of this event, COE and the Center now partner to make this celebration an annual event.

We encourage colleges and universities to celebrate the success of first-generation college students, faculty, and staff on your campus in any and every way possible. Get creative! In previous years, institutions invited speakers and offered programming on first-generation student success, hosted lunch and learn events, kicked off mentoring programs, distributed first-gen swag, featured first-generation students on websites, and more! Consider how you can build relationships with colleagues, involve leadership, and use a First-Generation Celebration event as a galvanizing force across your campus community. Join us in advancing an asset-based national narrative on first-generation student experiences and outcomes. We use First-Generation College Celebrations to encourage campus communities to better understand the systemic barriers plaguing higher education and the supports necessary for this important and resilient population to continue thriving.

Why Celebrate on November 8

November 8 was selected as the date for the annual National First-Generation College Celebration to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The Higher Education Act (“HEA”) emerged out of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. Much like other hallmark legislation of that era, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, HEA was intended to help level a playing field that for too long had been weighed against Americans from minority and low-income backgrounds. In addition to creating federal grants and loan programs to help students finance their educations, the legislation made key investments in institutions of higher education. Additionally, HEA ushered in programs, particularly the Federal TRIO programs, necessary for postsecondary access, retention, and completion for low-income, potential first-generation college graduates.


Dr. Daniel P. Corr’s First-Generation College Student Story

I am Dr. Daniel P. Corr, proud president of Arizona Western College. I grew up the middle of five children in a working-class neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. My father graduated from high school on a Friday and reported to the Marines the following Monday. My mom married my father soon after graduating high school. Similarly, none of my aunts or uncles attended college. There just weren't too many people from the neighborhood who went to colleges. There were enough jobs working for the city or in manufacturing to make a decent living. (By the way Dad worked for 33 years in trucking and Mom was a homemaker)

My older brother and sister graduated high school and found jobs, but the economy was changing by the early 1980s. They were dead end jobs paying very little.

My story took a turn when my sister paid for me to attend St. Laurence high school in the suburbs. I was surrounded by folks for whom College was inevitable. I also realized that I could hang academically with my wealthier peers. There wasn't an "ah hah moment", but by the time I graduated high school I knew college was for me. Best part of the story.... both my younger sisters attended and graduated from college! - Dr. Daniel P Corr, President

First-generation students sometimes don't have a role model at home. They doubt they truly belong in a college environment. Financial aid is daunting. Registration is daunting. We wanted to very deliberately and proactively and quite audaciously say it would be the vision of this college to seek to eliminate poverty, and in order to do that, it's through education and attention on first-generation students.


Dr. Daniel P. Corr AWC President – Inside Higher Ed. 2018

Kenia Rodriguez, Academic Success Advisor, Trio Talent Search


First-Generation College Student Events & Celebrations @ AWC