Book by Lee Ward, Michael Siegel and Zebulun Davenport
Reviewed by: Susan Aguiar
Academic Advisor
Emmanuel College, Boston, MA

First Generation College Students are a growing population among colleges and universities in the United States.  Despite their proliferation they remain a relatively anonymous group and identifying students as being First Generation can be difficult unless students self-report themselves as such.  In this book, the authors offer a very clear definition of First Generation students “as those whose parents have no education beyond high school” (p. 4).  

This book has many similarities to other books and articles on First Generation students in that it offers specifics on the percentage of students considered First Generation and note that their numbers increase each year.  However, the book possesses several strengths that make it stands out.  It delves into a lengthy discussion on the importance of “cultural capital” (p. 8) in order for a student to feel that he or she belongs in college.  The book also offers various examples of successful college transition programs offered at colleges and universities of all sizes and locations.  One example is Southern Illinois University Carbondale which has a program called First Time Scholars and “students who participate in the program must agree, once they reach upper-level status at the university, to return the favor and become peer mentors and tutors to other first-generation students” (p. 61). 

The authors also stress that assisting First Generation Students should not be put on one office or department alone.  They instead stress the importance of a holistic approach that is seamless across both Student and Academic Affairs, “which has the greatest probability of having the campus-wide impact on student success and retention that institutions, students, and policymakers desire” (p. 111).  The authors devote a chapter on how to establish such programs through the use of Strategic Planning and makes a clear point that “What is most important is that we know who our students are before we begin prescribing educational interventions” (p. 97).  Finally, this book stresses that any program developed for First Generation Students must be evaluated as part of a constant assessment process to ensure First Generation retention and graduation rates but to also help these students as they transition from college to the workforce. 

This book can be a helpful aid for Academic Advisors in that it can be useful in identifying students’ concerns and for reminding Advisors to never assume that a student knows something about college that one would think all students would know.  However, many of the suggestions of the book should not be limited to only First Generation students.  For example, even if a student has a parent who went to college, the two experiences can be very different.  But one key take-away from this book is that each college student (both First Generation or not) has individual needs as they transition into and through college.  As the authors state, “one size does not fit all – that you must tailor any efforts to improve first-generation student success and retention to fit those actually attending your institution” (p. 110).  As Advisors, we must always be attuned to what are the needs for each individual student to better serve all students.

First Generation College Students:  Understanding and improving the experience from recruitment to commencement. (2012). Book by Lee Ward, Michael Siegel and Zebulun Davenport. Review by Susan Aguiar. Jossey-Bass. 176pp. $40.00, (Hardback), ISBN #
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