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North Central College
Private Higher Education

North Central College’s “Cardinal First” program has been remarkably successful in increasing retention and graduation rates for first-generation college students, boasting rates in both categories that far exceed the nationwide norms.

With support from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, North Central is taking steps to increase the reach and impact of the program on its own campus and on other campuses throughout the country.

The Cardinal First program, named after North Central’s mascot, was launched in 2014 to boost retention and graduation rates among the school’s first-generation college student population. Since that time, the program has achieved 93% retention rates and 81% four-year graduation rates among its participants. As a result of this success, Cardinal First has been designated as a First Forward Advisory Institution by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, and North Central staff have been mentoring other schools—including large institutions like Purdue and the University of Michigan—on first-generation programming.

One hallmark of the program is the fact that successful first-generation juniors and seniors are recruited and trained to lead workshops and events for first-generation students who are at earlier stages in their college careers. Another feature, similar to the first, is the integration of North Central faculty who were themselves first-generation college students into the program events.

In early 2020, North Central was awarded a grant by AVDF to expand the Cardinal First program in order to increase its impact. These expansions will enable more first-generation students and faculty to serve in the program and will provide opportunities for the families of first-generation North Central students to become more involved as well. The grant will also support dissemination efforts to leading first-generation programs at other colleges and universities, so that these institutions can benefit from North Central’s successes.

More details on the Cardinal First program can be found on the North Central College website, here.