New RISE Initiative Empowers First-Gen Students

Set to launch this fall, RISE will support first-generation students and their families in navigating a successful college experience.

June 7, 2023

Berklee has announced a new initiative dedicated to supporting and empowering first-generation students and their families in navigating a successful college experience. Beginning in fall 2023, RISE (Reaching Independence through Support and Engagement) aims to enhance the student experience through social networks, academic support, financial education, and parent and family engagement, creating a holistic approach to education.

“We are excited to launch RISE and believe it greatly assists our first-generation artist-scholars,” said Scott Trach, associate dean of student success programs. “As a first-generation college student and Berklee alumnus, I understand how navigating higher education structures can be challenging. We have designed RISE to anticipate these challenges and assist students and families as they plan for and experience their first year at Berklee.”

Under Trach's supervision, Student Success Programming has spent years developing the guiding principles for the RISE program and establishing opportunities to measure the success of first-generation students using institutional metrics. They recently found that over 16 percent of Berklee's undergraduate population can be identified as first-generation based on their parent or guardian's level of degree attainment. Berklee defines first-generation as "any student whose parent(s) or guardian(s) did not complete a bachelor’s degree, and/or the student has no current contact with their parent(s) or guardian(s), regardless of degree completion." 

“It is our hope that through RISE students will gain the knowledge and comfort to navigate the often confusing waters of higher education with increased confidence, and that parents and families will have a stronger sense of connection to their student's college experiences,” said Kera Murphy-Perron, director of student success programming. 

Drawing from research and best practices, Murphy-Perron and her team found that first-generation students face unique challenges, including greater financial need, lower rates of degree attainment within 10 years, and less engagement with campus support services compared to their continuing-generation peers. “We wanted to address these issues, but not from a deficit perspective,” said Murphy-Perron.

At its core, RISE aims to further the three key priorities of Berklee’s Thrive strategic direction: enabling students to graduate at higher rates and with less debt; supporting students to have a high-quality, engaging experience; and preparing students for purposeful, successful, and sustainable careers.

“Nationally, first-generation college students and families are a growing population within our post-secondary communities, and this should be celebrated,” said Christopher Kandus-Fisher, Ed.D., vice president of Berklee's Student Success Division. “I am overjoyed to be part of this important work at Berklee, and to continue to offer direct care and support services to ensure that our first-generation students are successful in achieving their academic and personal goals.”

In May 2023, the Center for First-Generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA and the Suder Foundation, announced that Berklee was accepted to the First Scholars Network for 2023–2024. According to the center, Berklee displayed a demonstrated commitment to improving experiences and advancing success for first-generation college students.

“We are extremely honored to be selected as a First Scholars Network member by the Center for First-Generation Student Success,” said Murphy-Perron. “This selection is a confirmation of the college’s strong dedication to supporting first-generation students and their families.”

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