There are many programs, resources, and student groups at Illinois State that provide support for underrepresented students across campus.

That’s why the University has been recognized in nonprofit Strive for College’s 2020 I’m First! Guide to College, a comprehensive college guidebook designed to help low-income, first-generation students make college a reality.

Many of these services target first-generation students that face unique challenges in higher education. These University College resources aim to help students transition to college life by providing academic and social support. They have a focus on the first-year experience and have various communities for students to engage in. These include TRIO advising and support, MASAI mentors, STEM alliance, University Scholars, and the Transfer Student Honor Society.

Beyond this support, First-Gen Redbirds is a new registered student organization that creates peer-to-peer support for students that identify as the first in their family to attend college. One of their main goals is to reduce the deficit narratives they see associated with first-generation students by performing recruitment, programming, civic engagement, and overall awareness.

Students who are the first in their family to pursue higher education or come from a low-income household continue to be severely underrepresented on college campuses, despite high educational aspirations. A 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences found that “first-generation” college students are more likely to have lower grades in high school, have given no thought to taking a college-entrance exam, and wait longer after high school to enroll in college. While over 80 percent have expectations for college in the tenth grade, only 20 percent earn a bachelor’s degree by the time they’re 25.

Illinois State University is working to change this trend and has been recognized for its efforts by Strive for College.

The TRIO Program—or Student Support Services (SSS)—aims to uplift underrepresented students across Illinois State that identify as either a first-generation student, has demonstrated financial need, or have a documented disability. They provide many different services to these student populations that include academic advising, career counseling, and financial aid guidance. They also host annual awards within the organization that recognize peers, staff, and faculty members that have contributed to their mission statement by highlighting their achievements.

The Mentoring, Academics, Scholarship, and Achievement Initiative (MASAI) is a mentoring program at University College that focuses on the retention of both underrepresented and first-generation students. The MASAI mentors are made up of upperclassmen students that are committed to provide academic and social support for first year students at Illinois State.

The STEM Alliance is a program that has the purpose of increasing recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of underrepresented students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Students who become members of the STEM alliance receive many benefits that will assist them in their academic journey. This includes peer and faculty support, access to competitive internships, and the ability to conduct research at the undergraduate level.

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At Illinois State, first-generation students receive the academic and social support they need in order to make their college experience a successful one. The programs available address different aspects of student life to not overlook the unique challenges they face. Join them at Illinois State—your first step is applying today.