First-Generation College Student

The concept of "first-generation" students was introduced into federal policy by the TRIO community in 1980, during passage of the Higher Education Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965. Yet, even today, campuses and communities are too often blind to the academic capabilities and gifts that lie dormant within so many first-generation students. TRIO educators continue to be called upon to highlight the return on investment our country receives from providing first-generation students with an opportunity to reach their full potential through college.

Last November, the Council for Opportunity in Education's Board, in partnership with the Center for First-generation Student Success of NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, asked college access and success professionals to join with TRIO programs across the country for the Second Annual First-Generation College Celebration on November 8, 2018 — the Anniversary of the Higher Education Act.

For highlights from the 2018 First-Generation celebration, please click here.

The 2019 Celebration took place on November 8, 2019. Given the overwhelming success of this event, COE, the Center, and the Suder Foundation dedicated funds to extend an institution’s ability to serve more students, engage more members of the campus community, launch a new program or event, or to provide additional services surrounding the First-Generation College Celebration. After reviewing over 170 application submissions, 24 institutions were selected to receive grant awards. A summary of the grant recipients’ planned celebrations is available here Document is available for download (.pdf).

Click here Document is available for download (.pdf) to find out how TRIO Programs can use grant funds to cover costs for first-generation celebrations.

How to Participate

Possible ways to participate in the celebration include:

  • Campus rallies featuring notable first-generation alumni as well as other speakers
  • Panel discussions and forums featuring remarks by first-generation college students and faculty who were first-generation about their college experiences
  • Incorporation of first-generation faculty experiences into classroom discussions
  • Listening sessions by administration and faculty about first-generation students’ experiences and needs on campus
  • Creation of multimedia materials (including video messages) of first-generation students for use in admissions and faculty development sessions
  • Interviews with trustees, administrators, and faculty who are first-generation


Communications efforts can and should involve multiple tactics that will help students identify other first-generation college-goers on campus and also boost support within the campus community.