UT Recognizes Growing First-Generation Student Population

University increasing first-gen programming and graduation rates

Photo by John Anderson

At its annual First-Generation Student Day Celebration, The University of Texas – Austin is continuing efforts to move first-gen status from the shadows to the spotlight.

Now home to 9,915 first-generation undergraduates (the most in its history), UT hosted the celebration in commemoration of National First-Generation Day, which falls each year on Nov. 8. First-gen graduation rates have improved significantly over the last decade. If they hold steady, about 6,500 of UT’s current first-gen population will complete their degrees.

Galvanized by student activism, in 2018 the university increased first-gen programming. “For so many years at UT, it wasn’t something that we talked about,” says Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement LaToya Smith. “It wasn’t something that you celebrated – it was something that you kept to yourself, to be honest.”

Michelle Link, a faculty organizer for first-gen students, says event organizers met with student representatives around campus for months to plan this year’s celebration. UT grad-turned-staff Dionicia Barrones led the shaping of current DEI and first-gen programs. “Imagine students being told, tell me everything you would want to dream? And then [staff] helping out with, ‘Okay, we can actually do that, here’s how we could,’” says Barrones. “They’re giving [students] the actual structures and skills to be able to make the script come to life.”

As one of many programs offered during first-gen week, students say attendance at the event was especially encouraged. “I mostly came because I know how hard the first-gen staff have worked,” says UT freshman Esmeralda Reyes. “It’s just nice to feel noticed, like ‘We know you’re first-gen, and we made this special thing for you because we care.’”

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