Cornell Unveils New Support For First-Gen Students

As the number of first-generation college students continues to rise, so do the barriers they face to graduate. One Ivy League school is partnering with a private company to give them greater support.

Investment firm KKR will work with the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business to help first-gen undergraduates at the Ivy League B-school through a scholarship program. The goal, say Pamela Alexander, KKR’s managing director, is to emulate Cornell’s existing pre-collegiate summer scholar program in equipping students with life skills, mentorship, and coaching.

The program, dubbed the Accelerators Scholar Program, is to solely benefit students who are first among their families to attend college. Slated to launch during the fall academic year, the program comes with a comprehensive four-year curriculum that is aiming to provide support, resources, and opportunities that enhance students’ skills and experiences.


The First Generation Foundation recognizes schools like Duke University for their solid network of first-gen undergrads who regularly meet to work and build social capital even before fall classes begin. The foundation finds a school like the University of North Carolina (ranked No. 10 by P&Q) is especially resourceful to attend for student with low-income. Its “Carolinas First” program is dedicated to bringing awareness to the needs and the strengths of the nearly 20% of its entire student body that are the first within their family to go to college.

In the new program at Cornell, which Poets&Quants ranked No. 6 in its 2023 Best Undergraduate Business Schools ranking, KKR is sponsoring 50 of the school’s first-gen students with 17 upper-class students serving as their mentors. It will offer a visit to students to KKR’s headquarters in New York. Many of the scheduled support comes in the form of peer-mentoring and networking. In addition to cohort activities, the Accelerated Scholars program will host “mentor pods” that consist of junior and senior student as mentors and other activities including lunches with KKR mentors.


Today, nearly 1 in 3 undergrads define as first-generations students. According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, they very typically have few financial resources (a parental income median of $41K vs. $90K) and oftentimes attend higher education at lower rates. The term ‘first-gen,’ the center writes admittedly, seems to be the newest buzzword among education circles, but as tuition and other school fees preeminently rise in cost, as does debate about it being a burden to attain access to higher education.

While the numbers of first-gen students have grown in rapid waves, the rate of first-gen students attaining four-year degrees is still lower by at least 20%, according to the center.

There are plenty of colleges nationwide providing support in a similar fashion as Cornell. The University of Buffalo has a “Proud To Be First” program for students and their families to connect with mentors or resources for coaching. Penn State University leads several events and resources to establish support among their network of first-gen student body, including an annual summit – held both in-person and virtually – to feature the voices of its nearly 17,000 first-gen student population.

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