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CSU president knows about being a first-generation student


WILBERFORCE — Central State University President Dr. Jack Thomas has enacted a plan to help first-generation college students thrive and succeed.

“First-generation students can face more barriers to attending and graduating from four-year institutions in comparison to their continuing-generation peers,” Thomas said. “Central State University is committed to help students overcome the challenges.”

Components of the plan are: Affordability, admissions assistance, student support services, and a student mentorship program.

Thomas knows about being a first-generation student. He wrote on www.centralstate.edu\president, “I am a proud first-generation college president. Neither of my parents was able to attend college. Amidst the tumultuous battles of the Civil Rights Movement, they worked the fields in the same rural Alabama town where they raised me. At an early age, I can recall my mother telling me, ‘I want you to finish high school and go to college. Somebody has to do something a little different from what your father and I have done.’ With my parents’ support and encouragement, I obtained my bachelor’s in English from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. From there, I went on to obtain my master’s and doctorate from Virginia State University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, respectively. Now, as the ninth president of Central State University and the father of two sons of my own, I strive to promote intergenerational success for first-generation students and their families.”

According to Thomas, CSU is the most affordable option among four-year public universities in Ohio, and has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as a top 20 institution for social mobility in the Midwest.

“The Office of Admissions provides professional guidance in selecting housing, enrolling in courses, staying in good academic standing, successfully graduating with a bachelor’s degree, and everything in between,” Thomas said. “Student Support Services consists of personalized and individualized academic advising, advocacy, tutoring, study and learning skills development, cultural excursions, access to grants and scholarships, and other selective services.”

When Thomas became president two years ago, he established a mentorship program that is designed to ease students’ transition from high school to college.

“Each incoming first-year student is paired with a professional mentor who works to help them build relationships that will positively enhance their academic, social and emotional experiences, and establish a sense of belonging on campus,” Thomas said.

Said Dr. Kevin Kruger, president of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators: “As more institutions identify and support first-generation students, they are increasingly recognizing the substantial assets these individuals bring to campus: grit, ambition, fresh viewpoints that enhance the broader academic community.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018) indicates that educational attainment and socioeconomic status are closely related. With each increase in educational degree or certification, average income rises.

“To promote upward economic mobility, first-generation students should obtain college degrees at the same rate as their peers whose parents have college degrees,” Thomas said.

According to NASPA, first-generation students who obtain a four-year degree increase the likelihood that their family members will do the same.

“If we invest in our first-generation students, it will pay off,” Thomas said.

Staff report