Connie Jaime-Lujan had a simple plan for her life while growing up in tiny Wiley, Colo.
“I was going to get married, have kids and be the best mom ever,” she said. “I never considered going to college.”
All of that changed, however, when the home economics teacher at Wiley High School – there were 24 students in her graduating class – encouraged her to pursue a college education after graduated as Wiley’s valedictorian. And thanks to some financial assistance from Colorado State University, Jaime-Lujan developed a new life plan: She’s worked at CSU since 1993 and currently serves as associate director for university access and success.
Oh, and she still got married and has two kids – one currently enrolled at CSU.
Finding a home at CSU
A big part of Jaime-Lujan’s success story is the financial support she received from CSU. She earned several scholarships out of high school, but a game-changer arrived in the fall of 1984 when she was a junior. That’s when CSU unveiled the First Generation Scholarship – a first-of-its-kind program to provide financial assistance to qualified students whose parents had not graduated with a four-year college degree.
“I was thrilled to get that scholarship,” Jaime-Lujan said. “It helped me graduate with very little debt, and the support I received through the program helped keep me going.”
CSU celebrated the 30th anniversary of the First Generation Award program this week, inviting current and former recipients to campus to talk about their experiences. CSU was the first university in the country to offer first generation students a scholarship designed specifically for them.
How it started
President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 declared a national war on poverty and helped create federal outreach and student programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 1980, a study revealed a correlation between first generation students from low-income backgrounds and the chances of earning a college degree.
In 1984, thanks to a determined push from the Board of Governors, faculty and staff, CSU became the first university in the country to identify first generation, low-income students in Colorado and provide scholarships designed to pay for tuition and student fees. Among that group was Paul Thayer, who has worked at CSU since 1979.
“The vision of the Board of Governors was to provide opportunity for all students in Colorado,” said Thayer, associate vice president for student affairs. “It was determined that CSU would provide not only scholarships but also create a community of support for these students – people who care deeply about student success.”
The definition of success
By almost any measure, First Generation Awards have been a rousing success. Since the program’s inception, 1,796 of the 2,187 students who received the scholarships have earned degrees from CSU. That remarkable 82 percent graduation rate far exceeds that of the regular student body.
Currently, 55 students receive the $4,000 scholarships, which are renewable for up to four years. However, nearly 400 qualified students apply for the scholarships each year, but due to limited funding more than 300 applicants are turned down. (Donate to the First Generation Scholarship)
A legacy of commitment
Thirty years later Jaime-Lujan remembers what it felt like to get the First Generation Award and how it helped change her life. She gets an annual reminder every time she talks to the latest group of recipients.
“It brings a tear to my eyes, a smile to my face and a warm feeling to my heart,” she said. “I love the commitment this university has made to help these kids get an education. I just love looking at their faces and seeing the hope that’s there.