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UC's Gen-1 House Boasts 92 Percent First-to-Second Year Retention Rate

UC's Gen-1 Theme House, an innovative living-learning community serving first-generation, Pell-eligible college students, now enjoys an average 92 percent retention rate among first-year students returning as sophomores.

Date: 11/21/2014 12:00:00 AM
By: Melanie Titanic-Schefft
Phone: (513) 556-5213
Other Contact: M.B. Reilly
Other Contact Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Melanie Titanic-Schefft

UC ingot   The University of Cincinnati's residence house for first-generation students currently boasts a 92 percent retention rate among first-year students returning as sophomores. In addition, retention rates for Gen-1 students beyond the sophomore years, as well as graduation rates, are also rising.

The current 92 percent first-to-second year retention rate is an all-time high for the house, which has steadily increased that retention figure over the past seven years, from a starting point of 57 percent in 2008-2009.

These rising indicators come, in part, due to increased funding in 2011 that enabled students to not only live in the house throughout their freshman year but to remain throughout their sophomore year and beyond. That 2011 Social Innovation Fund grant not only helped boost retention and graduation rates but expanded the program, allowing Gen-1 programming to be made available to participating students who choose to live elsewhere after their freshman year spent in the Gen-1 House.

Christina Black, Gen-1 assistant director, explains, "When students were able to stay in the Gen-1 House through their second and third years, the retention numbers jumped. So, now, we predict that 60 percent of cohort 3 (those who entered UC in 2010) will complete their degrees in six years, and cohort 4 (those who entered UC in 2011) will graduate at even higher rates. An estimated 84 percent will graduate."
Gen-1 House Director Christina Black shows third-year student Ian Jackson how to use to enhance his media image files in the residence computer room.

She adds, "We know that if students make it through the first two years of college, they have greatly increased their odds of completing their degrees. So, we encourage students to stay here for their first and second years, and depending on their individual level of need, may continue to stay here as a junior or senior."

UC's Gen-1 services are helping the region's first-generation, Pell-eligible students beat the national odds. Nationally, according to statistics provided by the Pell Institute, only 11 percent of first-generation, Pell-eligible college students complete a bachelor's degree within six years.

Until July of 2014, The Gen-1 House was administered through CECH Partners for Achieving School Success, a community-university partnership founded in the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services. For those first six years, the bulk of Gen-1 funding was made possible through the generosity of external funders.

In addition to the Social Innovation Fund, past Gen-1 founders have included philanthropic organizations such as the Insured Success Foundation, the Haile Foundation, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Fidelity Foundation, Woodward Trust Fund, and the Assistance League of Greater Cincinnati, to name a few.

Gen-1 has also benefited from the continued generosity of individual donors with a vested interest in supporting first-generation students. Perhaps most notable among these individuals is UC’s President Santa Ono, who, in the summer of 2014, named Gen-1 as one of five recipients of his annual bonus.

University support of the program does not stop with President Ono. In fact, this July, Gen-1 officially moved to a new divisional home at UC: the Division of Student Affairs. This shift better enables Gen-1 to serve students from any major all across the university. Perhaps most importantly, this summer also brought Gen-1 a major step towards financial sustainability for years to come.

Starting this school year, the Gen-1 Program will receive nearly $440,000 in permanent, annual funds through Creating Our Third Century, a university-wide fund supporting UC’s academic master plan. Thanks to Third Century, roughly two-thirds of the program’s operating costs are now funded. This enables the incoming freshman students to receive 100 percent of their meal plans and over 50 percent of their housing costs.

While there is a minor portion of the total housing expenses that the students still have to pay, they are minimal compared to what a student would pay for regular student housing. To help offset the addition expenses, most of the Gen-1 students hold part-time jobs along with their full-time course load and still maintain a good grade point average, and the program’s leadership continues to work with various funders to secure necessary funding for the remaining program needs.

“Providing post-secondary education in the 21st century is the single most important trajectory of change in an individual’s life,” says Judith Mause, assistant director of student affairs and program coordinator for the Gen-1 House. “They will, as a result of the generosity of donors, forever change the legacy of themselves, as well as for those who come behind them in their family. That’s an incredible outcome for a financial investment.

“The benefits of the donor’s generosity is that they are providing opportunity for very talented young people to be able to earn the right to have that trajectory for themselves and for the legacy of their family members who will come in the future.”

“Gen-1 has helped me find myself and pursue my dream. I can’t imagine where I would be without this program,” says Jazmyn Battie, fourth-year Gen-1 student double majoring in psychology and criminal justice, with a minor in forensic populations while following the pre-law track.

“It provided me with a stable support system outside of my family and helped with providing much needed resources. Gen-1 also allowed me to trust their process to grow, to become a better me. They encouraged me to never give up when I felt as though college wasn't for me. This program is more than a program, it’s my family.”
Gen-1 students Christian and Tiffany Scalf and Ian Jackson enjoy studying together at UC's Generation 1 House in Stratford Heights/UC campus.

The English Tudor-style building in the Stratford Heights housing community gives the Gen-1 students a unique feeling of inclusion and a leg up for acclimating to college life. What started in 2008 as only one three-story 26-bed house has grown exponentially to include two more houses –– each adjacent to the original building, which has allowed the original number of 14 students in 2008 to increase to 90 students in 2014, predominately freshmen and sophomores with a handful of juniors and seniors.

All three Gen-1 buildings –– each organized more like a house as opposed to a traditional dormitory –– are laid out with common areas, a library space, living rooms, reading/study rooms with computers and even a piano on the first floor of the original building 7.

Residence rooms are on the upper floors with three resident advisers who live at the houses full time. Three full-time staff members serve as mentors/advisers, and there are two resident advisers who are Gen-1 college juniors. Black serves as one of the mentors who work with the students one-on-one and in group settings to check in and make sure they are using their resources and are staying on track.

“This is very powerful work with a depth of meaning that is truly hard to capture in data and sometimes even in a narrative,” says Mause. “This program is so poignant and it is so personal and it really celebrates the human spirit, and the university is giving opportunity to students who have earned the right to have that opportunity. They have worked to earn the right to be here and now they’re working to earn the right to stay, and they’re doing a cracker-jack job.”

At the very least, Black says the Gen-1 program has helped them discover who they really are. It’s an opportunity for them to come to fruition.

“I am a first generation college graduate myself, so it is very meaningful to me on a personal, as well as a professional level because I can relate to what they are going through,” says Black. “I didn’t have a Gen-1 house when I went to college, so I always tell my students I’m jealous because I did not have this opportunity.

“But what I feel most is tremendous pride for these students. The real hard work comes from them,” adds Black. “The program and directors support these students, but we don’t take their tests for them, we don’t write their papers for them and we don’t force them to go to study tables. What they’re doing is really important and they get that, and their dedication is truly making a positive difference in their lives, their families’ lives and in their communities.”

Tracy Steagall, a Gen-1 House 2013 graduate proudly boasts, “Because of my opportunity with Gen-1, my children will not qualify for this program."