A new University of Central Florida study recently published in Metropolitan Universities indicates a need for university websites to better communicate with first-generation college students.
This is important as first-generation college students make up about one-third of undergraduate populations but are more likely to not earn their degree than their counterparts.
“As universities become more digitized, my research team and I wondered how well do universities share support services for first-generation students online?,” says Amanda Wilkerson ’ 16 EdD, study co-author and an assistant professor in UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education. “Essentially, how much time would it take for a first-generation student to locate information specifically for them, that could assist them academically?”
To find this out, the researchers performed a content analysis of websites of 14 higher education institutions located in the Southeast U.S. that are part of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities, one of the largest organizations of urban metropolitan institutions. UCF is not part of the coalition and also was not part of the study.
They chose metropolitan universities because of their large populations of first-generation students.
To collect their data, they performed a search for “first-generation” on the institution websites, which took them to the Home, About Us and Financial Aid pages.
However, the first-generation information from those locations was not easily assessible or in a central location, says Lynell Hodge ’16EdD , the study’s lead author and assistant director of assignments for UCF’s Housing and Residence Life.
“We found there were gaps in information that resulted in a first-generation student having to click around quite a bit to locate information,” Hodge says.
The researchers recommended universities create a landing page specifically for first-generation college students as one way to reduce the number of clicks and make information easier to find. They also suggested providing content that helps prospective students determine if they are “first-generation,” as many might not be familiar with the term.
Marcus Frazier is a first-generation college student from Baltimore and a graduate student in UCF’s Department of Education Leadership and Higher Education. He says challenges he faced as an undergraduate student at Bethune-Cookman University were lack of resources and financial support, issues that became even more apparent when out-of-town family emergencies occurred.
He says some of the most important resources for first-generation college students are those for scholarship and grant opportunities.
“Some first-generation students are first-generation college students because their parents may not have been able to afford college or finish,” Frazier says. “I believe this is extremely helpful for financial matters.”
Emmanuela Pierre Stanislaus, associate director of Career and Talent Development at Florida International University’s College of Engineering, also co-authored the study. Hodge and Stanislaus were first-generation college students themselves, and Wilkerson was a first-generation graduate student.
Wilkerson received her doctorate of education in higher education and policy studies from UCF and joined UCF’s Department of Educational Leadership and Higher Education in 2019. Hodge received her doctorate of education in educational leadership and policy studies from UCF and joined UCF’s Housing and Residence Life in 2007.