Cardinal First student Olivia Ramirez speaks with NPR.

North Central College in the News

North Central featured on NPR for leadership in first-generation college student support

Nov 11, 2019

NPR feature story highlights the College’s hands-on approach to helping first-gen students succeed

North Central has distinguished itself as a national leader in first-generation college student success. Cardinal First—the College’s program for first-generation college students—has now gained an even wider national reputation through a feature on National Public Radio (NPR)

The piece focused on what colleges are doing to help first-generation college students and how North Central has a robust program that is known for its successful outcomes.
For fall 2019, 42.5 percent of all North Central students identified as first-generation, including 39 percent of new first-year students and 45 percent of new transfer students. Data collected over the past four years indicates the average first-to-second year retention rate for Cardinal First participants is 93 percent, which is higher than the rates for the overall student population at the College. For students who started in the program in 2015, 81 percent graduated in June of 2019—earning their degree in four years.

Find out more about the Cardinal First program and how it can help you >>

Parents, get more information on what North Central will do for your student and your family >>


Cardinal First participants speak to benefits for first-generation college students

Students like Samantha Sowa ’21—featured in the NPR piece—recall first coming to campus and feeling overwhelmed. She shared how being the first in her family to pursue a bachelor’s degree is daunting and without programs like North Central’s Cardinal First, she wouldn’t know how to navigate her college experience.

Cardinal First director Julie Carballo spoke to NPR about the importance of the program providing North Central students with “insider knowledge” to cultivate a sense of belonging, which is a common desire among first-generation (first-gen) students.

“Our programming gives our first-gen students a place to go when they have a question,” Carballo said. “We created a list of everyone on our campus who was a first-generation college student. It provides a lot of relief and inspiration—to first-gen students and their parents—helping motivate them to network within their community.”

Carballo commonly asks first-generation faculty and staff members to attend and share their stories during Cardinal First events. Donnavieve Smith, associate professor of marketing at North Central, is a frequent visitor. She shared her story with NPR, specifically addressing how first-generation students can connect with each other through sharing their background and celebrating their heritage as a point of pride.

You can read or listen to the whole feature at

For more information about North Central College’s Cardinal First program visit the program's web page.