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ASU receives First Forward designation for commitment to first-generation student success

Students sit around a table
May 02, 2019

Arizona State University is part of the inaugural cohort of First Forward Institutions, the Center for First-generation Student Success has announced. The First Forward designation recognizes institutions of higher education that have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students. Selected institutions receive professional development, community-building experiences and a first look at the center’s research and resources.

ASU’s commitment to first-generation students is evident in its increasing enrollment and dedicated support services. To date, 23,583 current ASU students are “first-gen,” defined as neither parent/guardian earned a four-year college degree. This number has tripled since 2002. Across ASU, there are many long-standing initiatives that positively impact first-generation student outcomes, including early outreach and access programs to college-specific and university retention efforts. Among these are Access ASU and the First-Year Success Center’s First-Generation Scholars Success Coaching initiative.

“The center is so pleased to welcome Arizona State University into our inaugural cohort of First Forward institutions. Through the application process, it was evident that Arizona State University 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 Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the Suder Foundation.

RELATED: First-generation students flourish at ASU with peer-coaching supports

According to Sylvia Symonds, associate vice president of Educational Outreach and Student Services, “as part of our charter, at ASU we define ourselves by who we include and how they succeed. This commitment begins with students and families in K-12 via comprehensive school and community outreach efforts designed to increase the number of Arizona students prepared to enroll and succeed in higher education. ASU is proud to be recognized among the inaugural cohort of First Forward institutions for our commitment to first-generation students and families.”

“First-generation students come to university campuses filled with high aspirations for their futures, and often because they recognize that a college education will transform their families and communities as well,” said Marisel Herrera, director of training and development at ASU’s First-Year Success Center, which provides success coaching to thousands of students annually with significant impact on first-generation student success. “This award acknowledges what we have known and acted upon for decades at ASU — that first-generation students are trailblazers and an asset to the university and to society as a whole. This is indeed a great honor!” 

As a First Forward Institution, select ASU faculty and staff will be afforded multiple opportunities to engage with peer and aspirational institutions that are creating environments to improve the experiences and outcomes of first-generation students. Selected institutions will send representatives to the First Forward Workshop to be held in Orlando in June and will participate in monthly phone calls, virtual professional development, goal setting, blog development, annual reporting and more. After two successful years in the program, institutions are eligible to apply for the Advisory leadership designation.

“First Forward is an exciting opportunity for Arizona State University to join an elite community of professionals prepared to share evidence-based practices and resources, troubleshoot challenges, generate knowledge and continue to advance the success of first-generation students across the country. We are excited to see a groundswell of activity from the First Forward cohort and know Arizona State University will be a significant contributor,” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA.

To learn more about first-generation efforts at ASU, visit or contact Marisel Herrera at To learn more about the Center for First-generation Student Success, visit

Success stories: Some of ASU's outstanding graduates for spring 2019

Top photo: Around 75 first-generation freshmen, coaches and staff discuss empowering the students to set goals to prosper in academics and life at the First-Year Success Center's Game Changer program last September on the Tempe campus. As part of the program, peer coaches offer practical advice and emotional encouragement to first-generation freshmen. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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