Admissions Reports Record First-Generation Enrollment

By Claire Abbadi

Thirteen percent of students in the class of 2017 are the first in their family to go to college, according to data released by the College admissions office. This number is the highest percentage of first-generation students in a class on record and likely in the school’s history, said Dean of Admissions Greg Buckles.

“There are 92 first-generation students,” said Buckles. “We only began tracking [first generation] three years ago, and it is an attribute we assign to students, they do not self-identify. We feel confident, though, that in combination with other record numbers in this class that not only is [this] the highest number since we began counting, but almost certainly likely the most ever in a class.”

The class of 2017 has made College admissions-statistics history in other areas as well; they hold the record for the highest percentage of students on financial aid and have the highest number of international students and students of color ever.

In response to the rise in the number of first-generation students over the past three years, the Institutional Diversity Committee (IDC) has initiated a mentorship program for these students. The IDC is a Student Government Association (SGA) sub-committee comprised of 16 students that seeks to promote diversity on campus.

“The goal, most succinctly, is to better support first-generation college students so that they can fully be present at Middlebury and succeed academically, socially, and emotionally,” said IDC co-chair Michael Bernstein ’15.

“The purpose of this program is to ensure that first-generation students don’t feel alone on this campus,” added IDC member and first-generation student mentor, Daniel Pena ’16.

The idea for the mentorship program stemmed from Discover Middlebury, a recruiting program that brings high school seniors from traditionally under-represented socioeconomic or ethnic groups at the College to an on-campus open house each fall.

The IDC hosted a reunion dinner for Discover Middlebury students this past fall, inviting admissions officers and students from IDC to talk about their first year experience thus far.

“People kept saying as a first-generation student it has been particularly challenging because the path hasn’t already been forged for them, like it has for many of their counterparts at Middlebury,” said Bernstein, recounting conversations at the reunion dinner. “In the spring when [the IDC] got a lot of new members, there was a lot of passion surrounding first-generation programing.”

In response to these conversations, the IDC created a working group to focus on how to better support first-year students, which culminated in the establishment of the peer mentorship program.

There are currently 37 mentees enrolled in the program and 73 mentors, after an all-student email requested students apply to become student mentors.

“I initially expected there to be more mentees, which is why we accepted 73 mentors,” said Bernstein.  “We thought we would get around two-thirds of the first-generation group, but I am satisfied with the number. It’s the first year and a lot of times in the beginning students may not know that they want or might benefit from extra support. I know coming into Middlebury, I might not have wanted to seek out help and identify myself any way in the beginning.”

The increase in different types of diversity is clearly reflected by the statistics of the class of 2017, with 26 percent identifying as U.S. students of color and 11 percent international students.

Buckles said that the reasons behind the increase of students within these demographics were two-fold.

“We are devoting considerable time and attention now to outreach, including work with urban outreach programs, access organizations, charter schools and other influential people and groups,” said Buckles. “The second reason has to do with the fact that you often see results come about almost organically once you begin to focus on an issue. We decided this issue was important, and that we were going to do something about it.”

The class of 2016 currently has 78 first-generation students and the class of 2015 has 81 first-generation students.

“Middlebury compares itself to the very best colleges and universities in the world, so the bar is set high for expectations,” said Buckles. “We can do better in comparison to those peer institutions regarding access and diversity. We’ve made great progress, though, especially recently.”

However, many students stress that diversity recruitment is not enough to solve this problem, and say that the administration has an obligation to help these students once they are here.

“If admissions is willing to recruit these from students of diverse backgrounds, who they know are not well-represented on campus, they should have a role in ensuring that students feel comfortable in this community,” said Pena.

“I’m proud that we were able to recruit a diverse class,” added Bernstein ’15. “But I think numbers are only one part of the picture. If Middlebury doesn’t feel like home when any student graduates then I don’t think Middlebury is doing its job, and I think that’s something that IDC has tried to tackle on a number of levels.”

According to Buckles, the class of 2017 is a result of broader, more effective outreach from admissions and more access for under-represented students.

“I believe that our success in shaping a community that includes so many more students that may not have previously been represented at Middlebury means we are beginning to look more and more like the best of the rest of the world,” said Buckles.

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