By Deanna Howes Spiro, Vice President of Communications, AJCU

Welcome back to another year of Connections! This month’s issue is the first of a two-part series on the many ways that our Jesuit colleges and universities serve the needs of first-generation students. The second part will follow in January, coinciding with the second semester of the 2021-22 academic year.

For many first-generation students, cost remains an obstacle as they become the first in their families to earn and complete a college degree. To ensure that all students have the opportunity to attain their goal as a college graduate, AJCU is working with other members of the higher education community to advocate for a doubling of the Pell Grant maximum award to $13,000 through Congress’ current process of budget reconciliation. You will learn more about the #DoublePell movement in this issue’s Government Relations report.

The ongoing challenges brought on by the Covid pandemic weigh on the minds of all college students, especially those who are their families’ first-generation of college students. Yet these challenges present unexpected opportunities. The pandemic has inspired 2021 Saint Peter’s University graduate, Adrista Ramirez (featured in this issue), to plan for the future: “You will get to tell your future employers and family how you navigated and managed to work through a global pandemic. That speaks great volumes about your character.”

We hope that the stories of Adrista Ramirez and the many other students who are featured in this issue will inspire you to think about what’s possible beyond the pandemic, and how Jesuit colleges and universities can help lead the way.

By Ashley Skutt, Communications Manager for Student Affairs, and John Kissell, Writer and Editor, Loyola Marymount University

Photo courtesy of Loyola Marymount University

Photo courtesy of Loyola Marymount University


Loyola Marymount University’s First To Go Program took root in 2010 as a means of filling a gap in services for first-generation college students, drawing roughly a dozen participants at the onset. The next year, the number doubled.

As First To Go reached its tenth anniversary during the 2020-21 academic year, the program welcomed more than 850 scholars who were the first in their immediate families to attend college, by offering events, classes and seminars catered to fostering students’ academic, professional, and personal success.

“We want First To Go students to know and understand that this is an assets-based program,” said coordinator Alexia Pineda, an LMU alumna who participated in First To Go when she was an undergraduate. “We view first-generation students as our educators because they inform us every day what resilience looks like. They are the students who really know what it means to solve a problem, and we want them to realize the superpowers that they already have.”

In Spring 2021, First To Go marked ten years on the bluff in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles with a reunion that attracted roughly 100 students and alumni. Held in a virtual format due to the Covid pandemic, the celebration served as a tribute to the program’s growth and the accomplishments of the students it serves, many of whom hold leadership roles in campus organizations. Program graduates have gone on to graduate school to work in higher education, law or medical school, and to work for such organizations and institutions as the Peace Corps, Teach for America, City Year Educators, and LMU, as well as companies like Disney.

“My experience with First To Go was one built on support, love, and family,” said Pineda. “Because of the love and support I have received, along with the connection I have established to my first-gen identity, I have found it only right to give back to my first-generation community by helping those in classes after me navigate the stressors of college, in the same way I have been helped and guided up to this point.”

First To Go was started by La’Tonya Rease Miles, Ph.D., a first-generation student herself, whose impactful tenure as director broadened and deepened the impact of LMU’s Academic Resource Center.

The program’s mission is to reinforce and build upon the unique sources of cultural capital that first-generation college students bring to LMU, thus creating a community that promotes and progresses students’ successes during their tenure. The First To Go Scholars Program, a yearlong learning community that includes a summer intensive program, is comprised of two one-unit courses in the fall and spring semesters of a student’s first year at LMU. It is taught by other first-gen student leaders.

In recognition of the program’s success, LMU was chosen in May 2020 to participate in the 2020-21 cohort of First-gen Forward Institutions, by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, and the Suder Foundation. The First-Gen Forward designation acknowledges higher education institutions that have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing first-generation college students’ outcomes.

“First-generation students represent the first in their families to enter the higher education learning environment,” said Mia Watson, director of LMU’s Academic Resource Center, which offers academic advising, writing center and tutoring support, in addition to first-generation student resources. “They are all exploring their identities and highlighting their history as they apply what it means to be a first-gen student to their lifelong goals. There’s a sense of irony that the program’s 10-year anniversary coincides with a global pandemic: [First To Go] is needed to support the lives of our students this year more than ever.”

For Daniel Herrera ’21, the priority is the pride that first-generation students have for school. “I want everyone to know the pride and immense effort each first-gen student puts into their schoolwork and extracurriculars,” Herrera said. “The higher education system was not designed in favor of first-generation students, but we strive for exemplary feats that make us leaders in our communities and the world.”

For Atithi Multani ’24, First To Go has given her the academic and emotional support to meet the challenges of this academic year and virtual learning environment. “I’ve received tutoring from the Academic Resource Center, learned so many things about college, and made a lot of new friends,” Multani said. “I want the LMU community to know that First To Go and first-gen students are all there for each other. First-To Go is a family, and we can always count on each other for advice, a shoulder to cry on, or even to share a laugh.”

By Taylor Ha, Senior Staff Writer and Videographer, Fordham University

(L-R): Gerald De La Cruz, Diana Reynoso & Rashain Adams Jr. (Photo courtesy of Fordham University)

(L-R): Gerald De La Cruz, Diana Reynoso & Rashain Adams Jr. (Photo courtesy of Fordham University)


Diana Reynoso never attended a private school until she came to Fordham University. In addition to the challenges of being a first-generation college student, she faced difficulties adjusting to the new environment. But in a cozy top-floor office on Fordham’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, she found a place that felt like home.

“I don’t have to be shy about what I want to ask. I don’t have to lie about my financial needs. Sometimes on campus I have to deal with cultural differences and I feel like I have to code switch, but at CSTEP, I can throw that all away and come as I am,” she said.

Reynoso is a senior in Fordham’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program, known as CSTEP. The statewide program prepares minority and economically disadvantaged undergraduates for professions in areas where they are underrepresented. Fordham’s chapter, which currently serves about 250 students, is one of the largest in New York. Its counselors have helped many first-generation students find community and stay on track.

‘A Backbone Throughout My Years’
CSTEP was established at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus in 1987 and expanded to the Lincoln Center campus in Manhattan about 15 years ago. Students benefit from multiple academic and career-oriented resources, including paid internships and research opportunities, career seminars, networking events, and support classes for pre-health courses. But one of the greatest resources, students say, is the relationships they build with their CSTEP counselors.

Fiona Sampaney was struggling with the coursework in her natural sciences major, but couldn’t devote enough time to studying. In her free time, she often babysat her three younger siblings and worked as a supermarket cashier. But thanks to her CSTEP counselors, she found a solution. “Changing majors was something I had already thought of, but I didn’t know how to go about it. They helped me draw out a two-year plan for the rest of my time at Fordham and see how a major switch would affect my GPA and academic standing for medical school,” said Sampaney, a Bronx-born first-generation student at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, who plans to become a pediatrician.

Rashain Adams Jr., another first-generation student and a senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill, said that CSTEP feels like a family. “Nobody is trying to compete with you when it comes to grades or success. Everyone truly just wants you to be okay, mentally and emotionally,” said Adams, who joined CSTEP in his second semester at Fordham. “The program has been a backbone throughout my years here.”

This past spring, Gerald “Geraldo” De La Cruz, a first-generation student and a senior at the Gabelli School of Business, became a residential assistant at the Rose Hill campus. He felt stressed and isolated, thanks to pandemic restrictions. But he was able to open up to his counselor, Renaldo Alba, who also serves as CSTEP’s associate director. “I was in a really bad place last year, mentally. I felt burnt out and drained,” said De La Cruz. “But when Renaldo starts his conversations with you, he’ll be like, ‘How are you?’ I was honest with him.”

Sometimes students just want to be heard. Alba explained, “They may just need to vent in a space that is judgement-free and confidential. If you’re a first-generation student, you’re grappling with issues that parents and perhaps previous support systems cannot continue to help with.”

To help students find community and perspective, counselors work to connect students to colleagues in other offices, CSTEP alumni, and peers. Alba said, “Finding others in moments of isolation helps a great deal.”

A Parent’s Love and Pride
For many students, feelings of isolation begin even before they step foot on campus, as they navigate the college application process largely on their own. Once they arrive, they feel the pressure to perform—both self-imposed and from family members who don’t fully understand college life. But at the end of the day, the students say they know their parents are proud.

Adams, a history major raised by a single mother in the Bronx, shared that his mother loves talking about her three children. He said, “She’s very excited that all of her kids have gone to college at this point. My brother graduated from John Jay, and he’s looking at his Master’s degree. My sister just started her first year at New York University, and I’m about to graduate from Fordham.”

Others had similar things to say about their families. “My mom is the cutest. She’s a home attendant, and she tells one of her patients about me all the time. When I finish a paper or get a good grade, she’ll be like, ‘Send it to me so he can read it!’” said Reynoso, now an environmental studies major who wants to improve health outcomes for urban populations, especially people of color.

De La Cruz, the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, said that he is thankful for his family, especially his mother, a small business owner who once wanted to study psychology. “I have an opportunity to do something that my parents couldn’t,” said De La Cruz, who wants to become a marketing executive for an entertainment company. “The sacrifices they made in life made it possible for me to do this.”

‘Lifting Myself and Those Around Me’
All of the students say that one of the most meaningful parts of being a first-generation college student is starting a legacy of education and generational wealth. “I can graduate and have a higher paying job,” said Sampaney. “That provides more knowledge for not just myself, but my future children and grandchildren.”

For Reynoso, being a first-generation student also means personal freedom and representing others like her. Through Project TRUE, a youth development program between Fordham and the Wildlife Conservation Society, she has mentored local high schoolers who may become the first in their families to attend college, too.

Reynoso said, “I can think and make decisions for myself more freely. I’m given some sort of authority to validate my opinion more, but at the same time, I’m creating space for others who may not have had the same opportunities that I have, while saying that their experiences have equal authority. I’m lifting myself and those around me.”

Contributed by the Creighton University Office of Communications and Marketing

Creighton Junior Alison Sundrup (photo courtesy of Creighton University)

Creighton Junior Alison Sundrup (photo courtesy of Creighton University)


At the academic convocation welcoming this year’s freshman class, Creighton University’s president, Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J., singled out one segment of new students for special recognition. “I am pleased to say that 12% of this class are first-generation students, or the first in their families to attend college,” said Fr. Hendrickson. “Creighton recently received national recognition for our support of first-generation students.”

In March, Creighton was named a First-gen Forward Institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation.

“Through the application process, it was evident that Creighton is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students, but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population,” said Sarah Whitley, Ph.D., assistant vice president of the Center for First-generation Student Success.

The 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.

“Creighton is devoted to the success of first-generation students,” said Mardell Wilson, Ed.D., Creighton’s provost. “And our innovative programming has provided a welcoming and supportive environment.”

Creighton’s support system includes scholarships and a network of student services and organizations. It includes a community of faculty, staff and alumni committed to meeting the everyday needs of each and every student throughout their Creighton journey. (This support system now extends to the Southwest. This semester, the newly opened Creighton Health Sciences Campus – Phoenix welcomed its first group of School of Medicine students, one in five of whom are first-generation.)

How does the University do this? A couple of concrete examples include the following:.

“Everyone is very supportive at Creighton, but they also don’t treat you like you’re someone at a disadvantage because you’re first-generation,” said Alison Sundrup, a junior in Creighton’s Heider College of Business.

Sundrup was adopted from China and raised by a single mother. It means everything to her mom that she’s getting a great education. “As a first-generation student, I always strive to be better, because I know so many other people haven’t had the chance to go to college,” she said. “I pray that in the future, I can give back to students wishing to better their lives.”

Joe Ecklund, Ph.D., who oversees Creighton’s Educational Opportunity Programs, said that Creighton is committed to doing more for first-generation students. Ecklund is the co-chair of Creighton’s newly formed First-generation Forward Council. “With this council, we’re really exploring, ‘What does the social experience for first-generation students look like?’” he said. “What does the academic experience look like? What are the issues our students face? Over this academic year, you’re going to begin to see a lot more initiatives and energy focused on direct services, programs and activities dedicated to supporting first-generation students.”

One initiative is already underway — the Creighton First Community. The program connects incoming first-generation students with current first-generation students, offering a peer-to-peer support system. “Through this program, students will know who they can connect with on campus, someone who knows what they’re going through,” said Justin Stoeckle, assistant director for Transitions in Student Life and co-chair of the First-Generation Forward Council.

Stoeckle said that all aspects of the effort to support first-generation students at Creighton — the council, the programs, the coordination of resources — will be designed to provide a more holistic, organic approach. Not to tell the students what they need, but to ask them what they need. And then help provide it.

“Above all, there’s this yearning for a sense of community,” said Stoeckle. “For first-generation students, we want to cultivate a space where we can celebrate the fact that what these students are doing is wonderful, that Creighton is lucky to have them, and that we’re a better community for it.”

By Gineen K. Abuali, Saint Peter’s University ‘21

Adrista Ramirez (photo courtesy of Saint Peter’s University)

Adrista Ramirez (photo courtesy of Saint Peter’s University)


Many students would admit that they are nervous and afraid about leaving college for the “real world.” This feeling is multiplied when they are the first in their family to do so.

But what if they are not only the first? What if they are also graduating at the time of a global pandemic?

This hypothetical was the reality for many students in the graduating class of 2021 at Saint Peter’s University. Adrista Ramirez is one of those students.

Ramirez was an accounting major who graduated from Saint Peter’s in June. She is continuing her education at the University this year, pursuing a Master of Science in Business Analytics, and will eventually sit for her Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams.

She is the manifestation of her family’s pride and joy. Not only is Ramirez the first in her family to graduate from college, but she is also an active student leader. She is the friendly face on campus constantly inspiring other students.

How does Ramirez do it all?

She credits support from University staff and professors who have given her the structure she needs to succeed. From programs, workshops, the help of fellow students, staff and administrators, Ramirez passed through her senior year with flying colors. She wants other students to know that “if you need help, you simply need to reach out to the specific department, and they’ll help you with no problem.”

In April 2020, Saint Peter’s was designated as a First-gen Forward Institution “in recognition of the University’s demonstrated commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students.” While the University has been helpful, the rest has been up to her. “Being a first-generation student gave me the grit and determination to keep pushing until I reached the finish line. I have never felt more accomplished in my life,” Ramirez explained.

Ramirez emphasizes qualities of persistence and resilience that have gotten her through college, as well as being able to see other first-generation students make it first-hand. She is a member of Alpha Alpha Alpha, also known as Tri-Alpha, the new honor society at Saint Peter’s that recognizes the academic achievements of first-generation students.

For Ramirez, the existence of Tri-Alpha is inspiring in and of itself. “I love that this honor society exists,” she said. “It makes you feel like your hard work is not going unnoticed along with who you are.”

In spite of a successful college career that helped her land a prestigious internship with Ernst & Young, Ramirez is still a young woman embarking on a new journey and starting a career for the first time. Like many others, she is nervous and afraid. She recognizes that the Covid pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty, stress and mental health concerns. Yet she retains the confidence that she has built up after four years of college. Ramirez is still an ambitious woman who is determined to succeed, and will do everything in her power to make it happen.

She explains that this did not happen overnight.

“There were nights filled with tears, anxiousness and stress. What college taught me was to persevere. I leaned on my friends and family when I needed emotional support,” she said. “To be graduating during a global pandemic makes me feel a bit nervous. I question what the work field is going to look like. How is it going to change? What does that mean for me? While I am nervous, I am confident that everything will work out.”

Now more than ever, that support system is essential. Ramirez wants younger students to know that they should never take for granted the value of a constant support system. She also wants them to know that it is okay to struggle because that is natural. But the key is to always be willing to speak up and ask for help. After all, that is what has helped her to succeed.

Along with that advice, Ramirez has some parting words for students: “Keep the faith and continue to challenge yourself. Keep your head high, and continue to chase your dreams. Don’t let this discourage you. In fact, let it motivate you. You will get to tell your future employers and family how you navigated and managed to work through a global pandemic. That speaks great volumes about your character.”

Ramirez recently shared her story with alumni, donors and members of the wider Saint Peter’s community at this year’s Hearts & Minds: The Saint Peter’s University Scholarship Celebration. As a recipient herself, she shared what a scholarship meant to her. It made it possible for her to attend Saint Peter’s and graduate debt-free, which has been vital as she gets ready to enter the workforce. Ramirez is already paying it forward and made her first gift to the General Scholarship Fund. She said, “One day, I aspire to establish a scholarship of my own to help others the way I have been helped.”

Ramirez hopes to motivate and inspire current and future students who, like her, work hard every day to ensure that their dreams and the dreams of their families become a reality.

By Stephanie Colunga Montoya and Jason Taylor, Regis University

Photo courtesy of Regis University

Photo courtesy of Regis University


At Regis University, we define first-generation students as those whose parents or guardians do not have a Bachelor’s degree. In 2019, first-gen students comprised about 25% of our incoming traditional undergraduate class. In 2020, that number rose to about 31%. This academic year, in 2021, they represent 38% of our incoming students. We have every expectation that this percentage will grow again next year, and we rejoice at that prospect.

Our first-gen students are a grace to us here at Regis. They help us to see things new and to start anew.

The three first-gen initiatives we’re highlighting here reflect our commitment to access and equity for students whose experiences and gifts represent a growing proportion of our student body. However, just as important, we also regard these initiatives as ways of catalyzing institutional transformation. If our students are a grace to us, then these initiatives are ways of building and exercising our collective capacity to be more receptive and responsive to diverse experiences and gifts.

Stephanie Colunga Montoya (Photo courtesy of Regis University)

Stephanie Colunga Montoya (Photo courtesy of Regis University)


First-Generation Student Success
The First-Generation Student Success (FGSS) program, based in Regis’ Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence (ODEIE), is rooted in our Jesuit value of cura personalis (care for the person). Our holistic approach to personal development and student success is of the utmost priority. We center our programming around intersectionality, with an understanding that our students’ identity as first-gen is but one of the identities they may find salient during their college journey.

FGSS supports students by fostering a sense of belonging and community. Through this program, we’re able to celebrate and make more visible the Regis first-gen community. It also provides members with a collective voice for advocating for and influencing University policies and practices, thus encouraging more inclusivity of the first-gen identity and experience. In this group, students find connections and mentoring with their peers through one-on-one connections, support groups, workshops, and celebrations.

First Scholars
In many ways, a second initiative, the First Scholars program – a collaboration between ODEIE, the Office of the First Year Experience, and the Academic Internship Program – enacts the same kind of holistic approach within the classroom space. A four-year program now in its third year, First Scholars focuses on empowering first-gen students to be campus leaders during their time at Regis. The program is designed to support first-gen students on their path through college with scholarships, and a curriculum that progressively makes more transparent the culture of higher education. The program helps strengthen students’ capacity to engage with and impact that culture. In addition, seminars integrate frequent peer-mentoring and faculty-mentoring opportunities, using Ignatian discernment and its principles as a model for our practice.

First-year students, in particular, receive significant support from their older First Scholars peers in their transition to higher education, which they can share with newer students they meet in subsequent years. The seminars use a year-long cohort model to build a culture of encounter and a strong sense of belonging. The most consistent feedback that we hear from students about being in the First Scholars classroom is, “I am not alone.”

Jason Taylor (photo courtesy of Regis university)

Jason Taylor (photo courtesy of Regis university)


Finally, we would like to lift up the 1LEADS (Leaders Emerging and Defining Success) student club at Regis because it is a powerful example of student agency and self-determination. This club was initiated by students who felt the need to unify the first-gen student voice to advocate, support and celebrate the community. The purpose of 1LEADS is to develop and establish additional support for first-gen students. 1LEADS believes first-gen students often stand apart from those who are not first-gen, as they are navigating college from the perspective of families who do not have a tradition of college education.

As this often presents unique challenges, 1LEADS aims to create events and support groups to assist and celebrate the first-gen experience. Programs have included weekly meetings, a family dinner with parents and siblings, as well as a graduation reception for first-gen graduates and their supporters. As one of the many student affinity clubs on campus, a priority of the group is to collaborate with other affinity groups to support the holistic and intersectional development of the community.

In his famous 1973 justice-education speech to Jesuit alumni in Valencia, Spain, former Jesuit Superior General Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., began by acknowledging the significant historic limitations and failures of Jesuit education to ground his hope for the future in a dynamism that he claimed was at the center of the Ignatian spirit. We too are hopeful that initiatives like those described here will make more legible for us the path our students are tracing, and will enable us to accompany them toward that future.

Stephanie Colunga Montoya is the associate director of Diversity and Student Engagement, and director of the First-Generation Student Success program in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence at Regis. Jason Taylor is the director of the First Year Experience and a mentor in the First Scholars program at Regis.

By Sean Smith, Editor, Boston College Chronicle

Alexandra Kabo ’24 (Photo courtesy of Boston College)

Alexandra Kabo ’24 (Photo courtesy of Boston College)


For first-generation college students, arriving on a college campus represents a triumph over considerable odds. But it’s also only a beginning: the rest of the way isn’t necessarily any easier.

That’s why, according to student affairs professionals, “first-gens” fare best when they have resources, including caring, committed campus staff to help them face educational, social, and economic challenges markedly different from those of their fellow undergraduates.

At Boston College’s Learning to Learn office — the institutional voice for first generation, low income, and underrepresented students founded in 1979 — the newest such support is “BC F1RST,” launched in 2020 as one of eight Living and Learning Communities (LLCs) administered by BC’s Office of Residential Life.

LLCs such as “Multicultural Learning Experience,” “Sustainability,” and the “Shaw Leadership Program” offer the opportunity for students with shared interests or backgrounds to live alongside and regularly interact with one another. Fifteen first-year students comprised the inaugural BC F1RST LLC cohort, which is housed on BC’s Newton Campus.

The BC F1RST LLC, an extension of BC’s similarly named college transition program, is a collaboration between the Learning to Learn office and Residential Life to offer initiatives, activities, and services—from guided group discussions on college life and other topics, to informal chats — that enable first-gens to connect with one another. BC F1RST LLC also connects them with BC faculty and staff, and helps to facilitate the development of support networks across campus and beyond—including first-gen alumni—who will help them succeed at BC.

One BC F1RST LLC student is sophomore Alexandra Kabo, a biology major from Silver Spring, MD, who plans to become a physician. She credits her mother, a Cameroon native who emigrated to the U.S. before Kabo was born, as a source of inspiration and persistence. “America is viewed as a land of opportunity; that was always, and still is, my mother’s belief,” said Kabo. “She taught me that education, and wanting to learn, is key—even if you’re not good at it, if you’re trying and you have the will, that’s all that matters. The emphasis on education has always been my foundation since I was a little girl, and I’ve placed high expectations on myself.”

Kabo, who attended Catholic school in her youth, felt that Boston College was the ideal place to fulfill those expectations. The BC F1RST College Transition Program gave her a good start, introducing her to other first-gens—some of whom are now also part of the LLC—with whom she can share triumphs, setbacks, and useful details about college life.

“Coming from a similar background, our mindset is ‘We’re all in this together,’” she explained. “You find out a little information and you share it with everyone else, even if it’s something like how you address a faculty member. If you’re used to calling your teacher ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.,’ you don’t necessarily know you’re supposed to say ‘Professor’ or ‘Doctor.’ I look forward to our small group meetings because we get to know each other, and be closer to one another.”

For all their commonalities, first-generation students have their own individual stories, and their own dreams and visions for the future. The BC F1RST LLC is part of BC’s efforts to ensure first-gens like Kabo experience the University in a way that suits their particular interests, personalities, and needs. “Working with ResLife to create a BC F1RST LLC just made so much sense,” said Learning to Learn director Rossanna Contreras-Godfrey. “It’s helped to expand our office’s resources, and those of BC, to first-gen students in a new and important way. College life can be difficult for anyone, and first-gens can have challenges that go beyond financial. Yet these students come with a lot to offer—not just to BC, but the world beyond.”

An average of about 260 first-generation undergraduates have enrolled at BC during the past five years. In the last decade, the percentage of first-gen students in the first-year class has ranged from 9 to 11 percent. The University’s commitment to recruiting and retaining first-gens is reflected in its multitude of programs and resources, which, in addition to BC F1RST and Learning to Learn, include the Options Through Education Transitional Program, which nurtures a select group of diverse students’ academic, social, cultural, and spiritual development while at BC; the Montserrat Coalition, a campus partner program that assists students at the highest level of financial need to actively participate in and experience a Jesuit education; and the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, which supports the undergraduate community with a particular focus on students of African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent.

That commitment was strengthened in 2020 by the University’s establishment—through a partnership with nearby Pine Manor College—of the Pine Manor Institute for Student Success, which focuses on recruiting and graduating more underrepresented and first-generation students. Last year, BC was also designated as a First-gen Forward Institution by the Center for First-Generation Student Success; received a five-year, $1.7-million federal TRIO Student Support Services grant to assist low-income, first-generation students, and students with disabilities; and entered into a partnership with QuestBridge, a program that helps high-achieving, low-income students gain admission and scholarships to the country’s top-ranked colleges.

The BC F1RST College Transition Program addresses these and other issues and concerns, and the LLC helps reinforce the message of support. Students are assigned a dedicated advisor at Learning to Learn and receive internship and career advice. First-year BC F1RST members take an Applications of Learning Theory class, covering areas like study skills, academic planning, and navigating the University, as well as participate in the BC Successful Start financial literacy program.

Administrators and staff say programs like BC F1RST recognize that first-gens often had to be their own counselors and advocates even as they strived for academic excellence. Now, having achieved their dream of college, they should be able to focus on being students.

By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU

The “back to school” season is a time of wonder and excitement for returning students and those who are beginning their college years on our Jesuit college and university campuses. But, for many, it is also a time of stress as the reality of the cost of attending college sets in. And this stress is exacerbated as we begin another school year under the shadow of the Covid pandemic.

Congress is a busy place in September too. Before the fiscal year ends on the 30th, the House and the Senate are charged with funding the government for the next fiscal year. At the same time, Members are trying to navigate two other important spending packages, which will make an impact on all post-secondary students, and those who aspire to pursue a degree beyond a high school diploma.

The Senate has passed a $1 trillion traditional infrastructure bill (e.g., funding for roads, bridges, transportation), as well as a $3.5 trillion budget resolution focused on “human” infrastructure (e.g., education, child care, health care). The House has also passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution and is taking steps this week to “operationalize” it by developing legislation based on the “instructions” or proposed spending levels received by relevant Committees. These “instructions” mean they can change policy to spend an amount allocated to a particular Committee.

The higher education community is keenly interested in the work of the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which are tasked with spending over $700 billion (over ten years) on education programs along the learning continuum, including free child care, universal pre-school, free community college, funding for under-resourced institutions, and an increase in the maximum Pell Grant.

AJCU has recommended that Senators and Representatives double the maximum Pell Grant to $13,000 in this budget reconciliation process. The presidents of AJCU and our Jesuit colleges and universities have urged Members to prioritize this policy proposal above all others in the context of an investment in education. While the House Education and Labor Committee mark-up this past week included a significantly lower amount for the Pell Grant, we are continuing our push to increase the maximum Pell as the reconciliation process continues.

AJCU presidents launched their advocacy engagement for Pell Grants back in mid-June. Many presidents participated in our first-ever virtual Hill advocacy day, by meeting with their Representative and Senators to make this request of them early and forcefully. What compelled them to engage so directly on this issue? Our presidents have a fundamental understanding of the power of the Pell Grant to increase access to and success in postsecondary education, including Jesuit colleges and universities. Further, they are deeply committed to investing in their students, especially those with economic need, who have historically been underrepresented at their schools and in higher education.

In the United States, there are approximately 7 million students who receive a federal Pell Grant, 28,000 of whom attend Jesuit colleges and universities, comprising nearly a quarter of our student population. Jesuit colleges and universities are partners with the federal government in supporting students on their campuses, committing over $2 billion annually in institutional aid to help students realize their dreams of obtaining a Jesuit higher education. Coupled with our institutional aid, the Pell Grant makes a Jesuit higher education possible for many students who would otherwise find our schools out of reach.

This investment in students results in measurable benefits. Our average six-year graduation rates are well above the national average for both the Pell and non-Pell populations. What does that translate to? For those who complete their degrees, they may realize lower student debt levels, find themselves more quickly on a career track, and realize higher income gains over the course of their lives.

In 2020, postsecondary educational enrollment declines were most severe for low-income students and students of color. That is an opportunity lost for individuals and for our nation. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, “The U.S. economy misses out on $956 billion a year as a result of postsecondary attainment gaps by economic status and race/ethnicity.” Successful completion of a 4-year degree is the most secure pathway toward greater earnings.

Through multiple op-eds and other forms of advocacy, AJCU members have said with confidence and conviction that maximizing the Pell Grant will yield short-term and long-term benefits by addressing access and affordability, and by contributing toward a more just and equitable distribution of gains (e.g., income, health, civic engagement) for the people of our nation. They understand that significantly increasing the Pell Grant will create opportunities in the future for students at all types of institutions and positively impact economic equity in our nation, particularly in the post-pandemic era.

AJCU presidents have written articles for local and national news outlets, blogged, written to Congress, and engaged their students to encourage them to lend their voices to this issue (see links below for a full list). There is an urgency to this work. They have seen the impact of the pandemic on their student populations, on individuals and families, and they understand the role that Pell Grants play in keeping those students enrolled.

This work is an outgrowth of our Jesuit commitment to the common good and an example of a faith that does justice. Expanding opportunities for education and learning, investing in the success of all of our students, and striving for a more equitable community are the outcomes we hope will result from our advocacy to double the maximum Pell Grant.

Doubling Pell Grants Would Be a Modern GI Bill to Boost the Economy
Tania Tetlow, J.D., President, Loyola University New Orleans

University President: Make College a Reality. Double Federal Pell Grants.
Dr. Eugene J. Cornacchia, President, Saint Peter’s University

Double Pell Grant to Boost Access, Achievement
Rev. Joseph Marina, S.J., President, The University of Scranton

Jesuit Colleges Are Committed to Serving Low-Income Students. If Joe Biden Doubled the Pell Grant, We Could Serve More.
Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J. President, AJCU

The Necessity of Doubling Pell Grant Awards
Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., President, Fordham University

Why Doubling the Pell Grant is Good Public Policy
Dr. Linda LeMura, President, Le Moyne College