How to Help Your First-Generation Students Succeed

Presenter: Amy Goodburn, Dean of Undergraduate Education; Jackie Costilla, Swazy Dalrymple, Collin Doan, Cameron Crites, Katie Anderson, Brennan Splichal

Contact info: To learn more about instructional strategies for supporting first-gen students, contact Eric French ( To learn more about First Generation Nebraska, contact Ashlee Young ( or Amy Goodburn ( – or visit the First Generation Nebraska website.


At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, about 25% of students are “first-generation,” meaning that neither of their parents has completed a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution. First-generation students often lack the parental guidance and prior knowledge about how to succeed in college that many of their peers enjoy. This video explains steps you can take as an instructor to help our first-generation students succeed.


First-generation students at UNL complete their degrees at a rate that is 10% below that of students whose parents have completed college degrees. With over 6,000 undergraduates who represent a first-generation identity, this is far too many students not achieving their dream of earning a UNL degree. In keeping with the N2025 strategic vision where every person matters, First Generation Nebraska is focused on ensuring that our first-generation students succeed. Part of this mission includes helping instructors find ways to support first-generation students in their classes. Fortunately, there are many things instructors can do to be pedagogical allies of first-gen students – and these approaches benefit all students, not just those who are first-generation.


Consider these five concrete steps you can take to support first-generation students:

  1. Unpack the “hidden curriculum” in your course. Do not assume that your students know the meaning of all of the terms you use or understand exactly how college works.
  2. Acknowledge that college is hard and struggling with course material is normal.
  3. Provide feedback on low-stakes assignments early in the semester so that students understand your expectations for academic performance and can adjust accordingly.
  4. Educate yourself – and your students – about support resources available on campus.
  5. If you were a first-generation student yourself – or if you are an ally of first-gen students – then make sure your students know that.