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U of M Establishes Program to Aid First-Generation College Students

For release: August 18, 2011
For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901-678-2843.

The University of Memphis has been selected to join a growing network of universities committed to increasing the graduation rate of first-generation college students through participation in the First Scholars™ program. Nationally, only 36 percent of first-generation students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrollment, compared with 60 percent of their peers whose parents are college graduates. The mission of First Scholars, a program of the Plano, Texas-based Suder Foundation, is to change these statistics by providing individualized academic and social support, personal development, and financial assistance to students whose parents have no education beyond high school.

The First Scholars Program is being launched at the U of M with a grant of $860,000 from the Suder Foundation. Of the 47 universities that competed for the grant this year, only the University of Memphis and Washington State University were named recipients. Existing affiliates of the program include The University of Alabama, the University of Kentucky, and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Since 2009, the Suder Foundation has awarded more than $1.6 million in research planning and operational funds, and scholarships to its affiliate universities.

“In the fall of 2010, 39 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen at the U of M were first-generation college students,” said Rosie Phillips Bingham, vice president for Student Affairs. “Students who are the first in their families to attend college face extra challenges adjusting to college life, because they and their families lack information about the college experience. Our number one goal at the University of Memphis is student success. The First Scholars program will help us achieve that goal by giving students who may benefit from additional support the help they need to persist and graduate on time.”

The Suder Foundation funding will allow the University to start the program this fall.  Future grant funds will be used to provide four-year renewable scholarships of $5,000 each to incoming first-time, full-time freshmen whose parents did not attend college. Students will also benefit from comprehensive academic and social support that will aid their transition to college and assist them in completing their college degrees.

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