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Tusculum’s support for first-generation students leads to next stage in national program
January 19, 2024

GREENEVILLE, TN – Proudly serving students whose parents have not earned a bachelor’s degree, Tusculum University will develop even stronger outcomes for these pioneers and their families after being selected to progress to the next phase of participation in a national program.

Tusculum first-generation students
Tusculum first-generation students Derek Hatcher, left, and Matthew Baucom, second from left, speak with Rachael Barnett, third from left, and Meagan Stark from Student Support Services. Image courtesy of Tusculum

The Center for First-generation Student Success has picked Tusculum to advance to the First Scholars phase of the organization’s First Scholars Network. This is the third of four phases within the network that Tusculum has achieved and will enable the university to build on its success with first-generation students with additional best practices.

“Tusculum is strongly engaged in helping first-generation students succeed academically and become career-ready professionals,” said Rachael Barnett, director of Student Support Services at Tusculum. “We are also focused on their social and cultural development as part of our holistic approach to educating students. We welcome initiatives such as First Scholars, which enable us to explore more ways we can enhance the collegiate experience for our students.”

Fifty-eight percent of Tusculum students are first-generation. Two of the most prominent programs at Tusculum for first-generation students are Student Support Services and ARCHES. SSS and ARCHES are free federal TRIO programs that provide participants with academic support, cultural trips, visits to graduate schools and other services.

SSS serves traditional students, and ARCHES supports online students. Staff work one-on-one with program participants to help them navigate the collegiate environment and increase the likelihood these students earn their degree.

In addition, the First Scholars’ core leadership team at Tusculum brings together critical partners across campus. They include Dr. Scott Hummel, Tusculum’s president; Dr. Tricia Hunsader, Tusculum’s provost and vice president of academic affairs; other TRIO programs at the university; the Office of Student Affairs; and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness. The collaboration among these departments and individuals exemplifies Tusculum's priority to retain and graduate first-generation college students.

Tusculum has already completed Phase 1 of the network – becoming a member – and Phase 2 – being selected in 2020 for the First-gen Forward cohort. Tusculum was chosen for the third phase – First Scholars – because of its unprecedented commitment to serving first-generation students. This phase is an evidence-based and research-supported framework. Tusculum will have access to robust data sharing as part of the national Postsecondary Data Partnership.

Sixty-five institutions of the 349 who have entered the network have reached the First Scholars phase. Tusculum was one of 15 recently named by the Center for First-generation Student Success.

“Through every step, it was evident that these institutions not only invested in serving first-generation students but were prepared to make a long-term commitment to radically change the way first-generation students are served and to employ strategies for sustainability and scale for intentional impact,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, the organization’s vice president.

Once Tusculum meets milestones in the First Scholars phase, it will be eligible to earn the Champion Campus designation, the final phase of the network.

Dr. Hunsader said Tusculum wants to move to the fourth phase. Already being in select company to reach Phase 3 is an impressive feather in the cap for Tusculum, she said.

“Attaining Phase 3 shows the importance Tusculum places on serving first-generation students,” Dr. Tricia Hunsader said. “When first-generation students graduate, they change the trajectory of their lives and their family. So many more doors open for them professionally, and their quality of life improves when they earn a degree. That motivates not only the SSS and ARCHES team but also our faculty and other staff, who work tirelessly to help students accomplish their academic dreams.”

The Center for First-Generation Student Success is an initiative of NASPA, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, in collaboration with the Suder Foundation. Further information is available at To learn more about the university, please visit

Building on a rich Presbyterian heritage and a pioneering spirit, Tusculum University provides an active and experiential education within a caring Christian environment to inspire civic engagement, enrich personal lives and equip career-ready professionals. Tusculum is the first higher education institution in Tennessee and the 28th oldest in the nation.

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