Increasing access for first-generation, low-income students

​​​When Amy Gutmann was appointed president of the University of Pennsylvania in 2004, only one in 20 students at Penn identified as the first in their families to attend college.

But, her ambitious vision, the Penn Compact, outlined three core values: inclusion, innovation and impact to propel the University forward. And inclusion, advancing accessibility to higher education, particularly among first-generation, low-income, or FGLI, students, has been a priority since her inaugural address.

Today, one out of every eight students at Penn is considered a first-generation, low-income student. As a first-generation college student herself, Gutmann wants to raise that number even higher.Last weekend, Penn hosted the fourth annual 1vyG Conference, convened by the umbrella organization EdMobilizer, to celebrate the resiliency, success and determination of FGLI students.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​With the help of the staff from Penn’s Vice Provost for University Life office, juniors Anea Moore of Philadelphia and Candy Alfaro of Soledad, Calif., organized the conference, inviting members of the Ivy League and institutions from across the country to explore and support growing FGLI populations on campus. In all, they hosted 390 students and 102 administrators, along with 67 first-generation alumni from the 22 participating institutions.​​​​​​​ 

​​​​​​​“1vyG was a great opportunity for students to learn how to start FGLI student groups at their own schools,” said Moore, and to “learn how to mobilize and gather resources for themselves in order to improve the mental, emotional and academic health of FGLI students.”

It is the first time the 1vyG Conference has been held at Penn.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“It’s very fitting that the largest FGLI conference was hosted here,” said Alfaro. “While the FGLI movement is just gaining momentum across the country, at Penn, the FGLI community was already strong and active.”​​​​​​​

Gutmann welcomed the campus visitors with remarks during Saturday morning’s opening ceremony in Irvine Auditorium. She shared her personal story of growing up believing that there were only a few options available, until her family doctor suggested aiming higher, and, when she did, a new world opened up for her.

“What remains the clearest is those times when my experience, when my perspective, made a positive difference,” said Gutmann. “I met peers and professors who didn’t care where I came from or how I got there. They cared about the quality of my ideas, the passion of my ideals and my integrity as a person.”​​​​​​​“Focusing on the Future: Developing Leadership, Institutional Change and Post-Graduation Success as a First-Generation Student,” was the theme of the many workshops, panels and discussion groups on creating positive change within university communities and establishing post-graduation plans.

Alfaro and Moore said the aim in expanding administrative and alumni participation was to expand the discussion and to provide students with tools to help themselves and FGLI communities. Participants at 1vyG 2018 shared resources, identified additional areas of need and discussed outcomes, while building a network of peers and support.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Penn’s all-inclusive FGLI student organization, Penn First, originally formed when its 13 founders met one another at the inaugural 1vyG conference. Since then, Penn has expanded support for its FGLI students, including establishing the FGLI Center, housed at the Greenfield Intercultural Center.

Pointing to the strides made at Penn, Gutmann said students who are considered first-generation or high financial need now make up more than one-quarter of the incoming class at Penn.

“This became possible when we committed ourselves to increasing access to talented students from every background.” ​​​​​​​

Opening Ceremony 1vyG