“Being a first-generation college student means neither parent has completed a four-year degree. At North Central College, we're proud that nearly 40% of our students are first-gen. Here, first-gen status is a point of pride among our students, faculty and staff. That's why we offer cardinal first.” This introduction on North Central College’s (IL) First-Generation Programs website emphasizes excitement, support and persisting to graduation. This sense of connection is communicated at orientation each year, too, when a list is distributed that includes everyone on campus who was the first in their family to go to college, from faculty to staff.

“The list is very powerful,” Julie Carballo, the director of first-generation programs at North Central told NPR. “The relief and inspiration and motivation that brings to the students and their parents when they see that. It’s just so reassuring.”

It’s all part of how Cardinal First creates a community among first-generation students, faculty and staff, providing a structured approach to help students succeed in and out of class with ongoing programming for each year of study. According to their site, over 500 students already participate in Cardinal First. And 65 students serve as Cardinal First Ambassadors, leaders and mentors for first year first-generation students. These Ambassadors participate in monthly leadership development workshops, mentor and outreach to five to eight students per term, and serve as table hosts at Cardinal First Friday workshops.

Here are some other components of the program…

Cardinal First Benefits

  • A built-in network of first-generation peers, faculty and staff who offer mentoring and support
  • The opportunity to apply for a renewable Cardinal First Scholarship of $1,000 after participating in the program for one year
  • Free monthly interactive workshops – with free food – for each year of students’ North Central experience
  • Programming from students’ first day on campus through graduation
  • A yearly planner and calendar to help participants stay on schedule and stay on top of campus happenings
  • A Cardinal First T-shirt, pen, water bottle and more
  • Leadership opportunities after one year of participation
  • Connection to opportunities, information, resources and experiences

Specialized Academic Support

Cardinal First students are also offered special Academic Groups facilitated by first-gen faculty members in areas from Actuarial Science to Art & Design, Biology to Business, Political Science to Theatre and more.

You can learn more about this program and others in our NEW Creating a Campus Culture of Belonging: Programs, Initiatives, Training and Strategies guide.