First in family students to attend university
First in family students Issac Tung and Abbey Tomlinson (photo courtesy of The Australian newspaper)

Victoria University helps students who are the first in their families to go to university to build their confidence, networks, and knowledge before classes even begin.

First-in-family students can struggle with the transition to university because they lack the family support and experiences of other students, says Dr Laurie Chapin, who founded with program with colleague Dr Bert Oraison:

“They can feel like a fish out of water, or like an ‘imposter’ with a low sense of entitlement to even be there. In some cases, going to university is opposite family expectations.” 

Research shows first-generation students face unique challenges and have higher drop-out rates, lower attendance, and feel more stress than their peers.

VU’s Australian-first ‘Kick Start’ program develops the ‘social capital’ of first-generation students through intensive workshops that focus on campus familiarisation, study skills, creating academic and personal support networks, and more.

Social capital is the information, support, and access to resources that people get through their networks.

With about 40% of VU students the first in their families to enter a university classroom, VU has among the highest proportion of first-generation students in Australia.

Program gets results

Kick Start was piloted last year with about 30 first-in-family students with stunning results. Compared to a control group that had not done the program:

  • 93% of Kick Start students passed all their first semester classes compared to 68%
  • 53% of students reported studying more than 10 hours per week compared to 30%
  • 71% reported perfect attendance compared to 60%.

Kick Start students were also more likely to seek help from their teachers, and had higher average grades than students who had not completed the program.

Dr Chapin said the needs of first-generation students are under-recognised as they are often not included in official equity target groups, as are students with disabilities or from regional areas, or those from low socio-economic, non-English, or Indigenous backgrounds:

“First-in-family students may encompass many overlapping characteristics related to their backgrounds, age, or socio-economic status, highlighting how complex their needs can be.” 

Jasmine Kellett, 18, has three sisters and parents who never went to university. She completed the Kick Start program before starting her double degree in Business and Psychology.

Jasmine’s father, a truck driver, was originally skeptical about her choice to go to university.

“Now he boasts about me to anyone he meets,” she said.

Listen to VU's Dr Bert Oraison and new student Jasmine Kellett discuss the Kick Start program on ABC Radio National's 'Life Matters' program.

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