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Doane named First Forward Institution

Doane named First Forward Institution

First Forward logo

Doane University has been recognized for its commitment to the success of first-generation students with its recognition as a First Forward Institution and its inclusion in the inaugural First Forward Cohort.


The First Forward Cohort is a gathering of more than 80 institutions of higher learning from all over the United States. Member schools vary widely. Membership includes public and private schools, large and small, urban and rural, all with the common thread of proven commitment to the success of first-generation students.


“What they tried to do for this cohort was to pick institutions that already had very well established programs for first-generation students in place,” said Terese Francis, director of academic support for Doane’s College of Professional Studies and CPS’s representative to the Cohort. “We had to prove to them that we were committed to our first generation students.”


If you’re a Doane student and you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you’re a first-generation student. The University defines a “first-generation student” as any current full-time student, neither of whose parents have a four-year degree. A little more than a third (35%) of the Crete campus population is composed of first-gen students. Nearly half (47%) of CPS students are first-generation.


“We knew we had a high population,” said Dr. Lorie Cook-Benjamin, dean of CPS. “We wanted to be involved with an organization that would help us help our first-generation students.”


The First Forward Cohort is a brand new entity organized by the Center for First-Generation Student Success. The Center is itself an initiative of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the Suder Foundation. Membership in the Cohort comes at no cost to Doane.


The purpose of the First Forward Cohort is to bring together schools already committed to helping first-generation students succeed, in order to share methods and best practices and to to innovate new ways of serving first-generation populations. The Cohort is set to hold its first virtual meeting of institutional representatives later this month.


“I’m hoping we’ll come out of that with some great strategies we can implement with our students to improve retention,” Cook-Benjamin said. “But even in terms of how we recruit and enroll students. How can we work proactively? That’s what I’m looking forward to learning.”


First Forward Cohort member schools are committed to one virtual meeting a month with one in-person meeting of all representatives per year. Member institutions are encouraged to learn and share what they know freely for the benefit of first generation students.


Doane already has several programs in place to help streamline a first-gen student’s college experience.


“Here we have a lot of workshops for skills that first-gens might need,” Francis said. “Things like time management, things like reading textbooks, we run those constantly each term. We do series like computer skills. We’re supporting them in their basic learning strategies.”

Francis also cited Doane’s designated hangout areas for first-gen students as a reason for its inclusion in the Cohort.

Francis and Cook-Benjamin both expressed excitement about learning how to do even more for first-gen students.


Doane’s involvement with the Center for First-Generation Student Success and its involvement with the First Forward Cohort began when Cook-Benjamin first learned about the initiative. She then brought in Francis to represent CPS, and Dr. Wilma Jackson to represent the College of Arts and Sciences in Crete.


“So thinking about one university and One Doane, we have Tere representing our adult learners and Wilma representing our traditional students,” Cook-Benjamin said. “This could turn into a great model for how the entire university can work together as One Doane.”


While a great opportunity for Doane to improve its strategies and practices, the First Forward Cohort is ultimately organized for the benefit of first-generation students.


“I know that all of these institutions in the Cohort have already demonstrated commitment to first-generation students,” Francis said. “The commitment is already there, the programs are already there, now we get to find out what they’re doing that we’re not. I just can’t wait to see what new strategies I can bring back to start using that are best practices.


“There’s always room for improvement.”