Mentoring program supports first-generation students

Mentoring program supports first-generation students

Victoria University (VU) is preparing has launched an Australia-first student mentorship program aimed towards students who are the first in their family to reach tertiary education.

The University, having a high proportion of first-generation university students at 40%, announced the launch of its Kick Start program this week following a successful pilot test in 2019.

Some 30 first-generation students were covered in last year’s pilot and were found to have performed better compared to their first-generation peers who had not received mentorship.

Dr Laurie Chapin, one of the co-founders of the program, said these students, who are often excluded from official equity target groups, struggle with their transition to university.

One reason for this, Dr Chapin pointed out, is that students sometimes lack family support for pursuing tertiary education.

However, these first-generation students are also most likely to have overlapping characteristics with students who are part of official equity target groups – especially when it comes to socio-economic background or age.

This would lead to higher stress and even drop-out rates for these students, compared to their peers who have had family members attend university before.

To counter this, the Kick Start program offers workshops and support through academic and personal networks, as well as study tips.

VU’s pilot program found that first-generation students who received mentorship were most likely to seek help and had higher grades than their peers who did not complete the program.

Of the 30 students who took part in the pilot, 93% of these students passed their first semester classes and 71% had reported a perfect attendance.

Also, more than half (53%) of these students reportedly studied more than 10 hours per week compared to only 30% of those who did not complete the program. 

VU managed to improve the student outcomes of all their first and second-year students after the implementation of the block model, the VU Way – also an Australia-first initiative.

The block model lets students finish one unit at a time and in smaller class sizes. It also gives students the chance to receive faster feedback from their professors. 

Outgoing Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Dawkins, said that this model particularly helps students from non-English speaking backgrounds, as well as first-in-family students.

How other universities are supporting first-generation students

One US university is hitting two birds with one stone through its program supporting first-generation university students.

In an article published in The Conversation, University of California San Diego Professor Emeritus Melvin Green wrote that he had started the Emiriti Mentorship Program (EMP) in 2006 as a way to support first-generation first and second-year students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.

What sets EMP apart from other youth mentorship programs, however, is their use of emiriti professors to guide and give advice to students.

Professor Emeritus Green wrote that mentors feel a sense of purpose after their retired and continue to stay involved through the program.