Hearst Foundations Award $100,000 to Support First-Generation College Students at UofM

May 10, 2016 - The University of Memphis has received a $100,000 grant from The Hearst Foundations for the First Scholars program. The Hearst Foundations identify and fund outstanding nonprofits to ensure that people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to build healthy, productive and inspiring lives. First Scholars advances the work of the Hearst Foundations through its focus on increasing the graduation rate for first-generation college students.

Nationally, only 36 percent of first-generation students complete a bachelor's degree within six years of enrollment, compared with 60 percent of their peers whose parents are college graduates. Students selected to participate in the four-year First Scholars program benefit from peer mentoring, personalized academic and social support, and a $5,000 annual scholarship. The grant from The Hearst Foundations will fund scholarships for 10 new participants for two years.

"First Scholars is a remarkably effective program that addresses a critical need at the University," said UofM President M. David Rudd. "Students who are the first in their family to attend college face numerous obstacles to success, and often lack the experience and support they need to overcome those obstacles."

At the UofM, 42 percent of full-time undergraduates are first-generation compared to about 20 percent of full-time undergraduates nationally at four-year institutions. "The data show that students who participate in First Scholars are being provided with the tools they need to achieve at a high level and earn their degrees," added Rudd. "The Hearst Foundations commitment will ensure that more students find success."

Launched with a grant from the Suder Foundation, the First Scholars program has reached a landmark year with the first cohort of participants who arrived on campus in fall 2012 set to graduate in 2016. The program has demonstrated success with a four-year graduation rate of 42 percent, which is more than three times the rate for all first-generation students at the UofM, and an overall retention rate of 86 percent. The cumulative GPA for all participants is 3.19.

Jessica Cowan