May 2, 2019

West Chester University Receives National Honor for Commitment to First-generation Student Success

WCU First Generation designation 2019WCU among the First to Earn “First Forward Designation”

The Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation, has named West Chester University to its inaugural cohort of First Forward Institutions.  The First Forward designation recognizes institutions of higher education that have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students. With approximately one in four (24 percent) of WCU’s new first-year students self-reporting as first-generation college students in 2018, the divisions of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs collaborated to launch an intentional program designed to support these deserving students and their families. Throughout 2018-2019, more than 100 first-generation college students at WCU participated in monthly programming that provided a strong support network, introduced a variety of campus resources, and connected students directly to their peers and members of the campus community who also share the first-generation college experience. Nearly 22 percent of WCU’s current undergraduate population self-identifies as being a first-generation college student.

“The Center is so pleased to welcome West Chester University into our inaugural cohort of First Forward institutions.  Through the application process, it was evident that West Chester University is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students, but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies for significant scaling and important advances in the future,” said Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success.

As a First Forward Institution, select faculty and staff will be afforded multiple opportunities to engage with peer and aspirational institutions that are also creating environments to improve the experiences and outcomes of first-generation students. Selected institutions will send representatives to the First Forward Workshop to be held in Orlando, FL in June, and will participate in monthly phone calls, virtual professional development, goal setting, blog development, annual reporting, and more. After two successful years in the program, institutions are eligible to apply for the Advisory leadership designation.

“Identifying, recognizing, and serving our West Chester’s “Firsts” is a priority for WCU. Thanks to the hard work of multiple staff, faculty, and students, WCU has received this national distinction. This designation will afford West Chester University the opportunity to continue serving a population of students who are important to the mission of this fine institution,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Zebulun Davenport, who holds a Doctor of Higher Education and Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. “Being intentional about serving first-generation college students will continue our mission of preparing our graduates to succeed personally and professionally, and contribute to the common good.”

Cross-divisional leadership is key to the initiative’s success.  “Our goal is to examine all areas of the institution to ensure programs and processes are in place to support and celebrate our first generation students,” said Assistant Vice President for Student Development in Student Affairs Judy Kawamoto, who holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration from Boston College.  “Together with my colleagues Associate Provost for Student Success and Dean of University College Tabetha Adkins, who holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Rhetoric and Composition from University of Louisville, and Associate Vice President for Campus Planning and Outreach and Director of WCU’s Philadelphia Center Joe Santivasci, who holds a Master of Education in Higher Education Leadership from University of Delaware, we have built a systemic approach to addressing first generation student needs.”

“First Forward is an exciting opportunity for West Chester University to join an elite community of professionals prepared to share evidence-based practices and resources, troubleshoot challenges, generate knowledge, and continue to advance the success of first-generation students across the country. We are excited to see a groundswell of activity from the first forward cohort and know West Chester University will be a significant contributor,” offered Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA.

To learn more about the Center for First-generation Student Success, visit


NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education is the leading association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession. Its work provides high-quality professional development, advocacy, and research for 15,000 members in all 50 states, 25 countries, and 8 U.S. territories. Visit for more information.

The Center for First-generation Student Success is the premier source of evidence-based practices, professional development, and knowledge creation for the higher education community to advance the success of first-generation students. Through four strategic priority areas, the Center drives higher education innovation and advocacy for first-generation student success.

Back to top of page.