Cardinal First student ambassadors
North Central College joins a distinguished group of schools nationwide to serve as members of the First Forward advisory board that will mentor institutions and develop programs to improve experiences and advance outcome for first-generation students.

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North Central among leaders for first-generation student success


Jun 04, 2019

North Central College named to inaugural First Forward Advisory Board

North Central College joins eight other schools nationwide as members of the First Forward advisory board that will mentor institutions and develop programs to improve experiences and advance outcomes for first-generation students. The First Forward program is an initiative by The Center for First-generation Student Success and Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA).

“Through the application process, it was evident that North Central College is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies for significant scaling and important advances in the future,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success.

North Central joins a distinguished group on the advisory board that includes Kansas State University; Rutgers University; University of California Los Angeles; University of Florida; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Texas at San Antonio; Northern Arizona University; and El Camino College.

“We are proud of this recognition and look forward to collaborating with the other First Forward Institutions to continue to expand our programs and services for first-generations students,” said Julie Carballo, director of first-generation programming and Teach First at North Central College.

Approximately 40 percent of North Central’s students identify as first-generation—defined as neither parent having a four-year degree—higher than the nationwide average of 33 percent. With over 100 faculty and staff on campus that identify as first-generation, North Central is a place where first-generation students feel welcome.

First Forward Advisory Board

First Forward Advisory Board Designation

First-generation Cardinals lead the way

Cardinal First, led by Carballo, is the College’s flagship program dedicated to serving first-generation students on campus. When it launched five years ago, it was on the forefront of programs dedicated to serving first-generation students, offering assistance with personal and professional development, networking, life skills, scholarships, mentoring and more. Cardinal First supports students at every step of their college journey, from enrollment to commencement. More than 400 students are actively engaged with Cardinal First on a regular basis.

First Forward is a program that will help build on this commitment and connect the College with a community of higher education professionals with resources to help develop programs like Cardinal First. As an advisory board member, North Central will act as a model institution for its region and help lead the national effort to improve the success of first-generation students.

In 2018, Cardinal First was recognized with NASPA’s Grand Silver Excellence Award and a Gold Excellence Award in a category focused on enrollment management, orientation and support.

The impact of Cardinal First on students has been profoundly beneficial. In the 2016-2017 academic year, 118 first-generation students attended Cardinal First Fridays, monthly lunch workshops for first year students. Ninety-two percent of those students returned to North Central for their sophomore year. Traditionally, first-generation students are among the most likely to leave college after their first year.

Continuing a tradition of first-generation support

In 2019, Cardinal First experienced some firsts of its own, such as the inaugural induction ceremony for Alpha Alpha Alpha, a first-generation honor society. The organization welcomed 219 high-achieving students in a ceremony held in front of an audience of 600 family members and friends.

According to a national report referenced by the NASPA Center for First-Generation Student Success, only 27 percent of first-generation students complete a bachelor’s degree in four years. Of the first-generation students who started at North Central College in the fall of 2015 and completed the Cardinal First Fridays program, 81 percent will graduate in 2019.

In addition, the new First-Generation Resource Center on campus is staffed full time by student ambassadors and staff members who provide support, answer questions and encourage first-generation students to work on homework or connect with friends.

“Cardinal First provides a community and a home for first-generation students,” said Carballo. “We want them to know they bring value to their campus peers. The success of students in Cardinal First is a point of pride for North Central, and being first-generation is a point of pride for students as well.”

Cardinal First student ambassadors

Cardinal First student ambassadors pose for a photo during their retreat