Serving First-Generation College Students

By Michael J. Beals, Ph.D.  

I’ll never forget my first days as a student at Southern California College. I did not know it then, but that college, which years later would be expanded and renamed Vanguard University, is where I’d meet the love of my life, be prepared for ministry as a pastor and educator, and eventually where I would teach and receive the great joy and privilege of leading thousands of students and an incredible team of faculty and staff as its tenth and current president.

President Beals, 1979

Before I reached any of those milestones, I experienced those first days–days filled with promise, excitement and yes, intimidation. As a first-generation college student, I did not know what to expect. Then I met people like President Wayne Kraiss who began to disciple me, and Art and Betty Price and Dr. Shirley and Winton Felt who opened their homes and hearts to me. These pillars of the SCC community helped me navigate the challenges of being a first-generation college student, connecting me with people and services around campus that ensured I had everything I needed to succeed as a student and beyond graduation.  

Today, nearly 35 percent of Vanguard’s student body is made up of first-generation college students–true vanguards of their families and communities. This growth has come because Vanguard students continue to be surrounded by a community of people and resources who, like President Kraiss, Art and Betty and Dr. Shirley and Winton, help them navigate and find solutions to the unique challenges that students can face when navigating higher education. Our faculty, staff and administrators are deeply committed to creating an environment where all students can attend, flourish, graduate and be equipped to pursue and fulfill God’s call on their life.  

Carissa Diaz
Kayla Iniguez 
Jenay Robinson
Angelina Jilis Hargrove 

In 2016, we launched First2VU, Vanguard’s first-generation college student support group, to guarantee a consistent focus on caring for this special group of students. This club is especially close to my heart, and I have greatly enjoyed serving on panels and engaging directly with these students through the years. I’m thrilled to share that First2VU continues to grow and increase support for first-gen students. We even began an annual fundraiser for First2VU through Vanguard Giving Day, which was launched last year and provided $1,000 scholarships for five deserving VU students.   

Today, nearly 35 percent of Vanguard’s student body is made up of first-generation college students–true vanguards of their families and communities.

First-generation Vanguard students also thrive here in large part because of the University’s nationally recognized infrastructure for student success. Over the past seven years, additions to student support services have been ongoing. We’ve established the Academic Resource Center and new programs for career preparation, like a Job Shadow Program and Samson’s Career Closet; invested in a free counseling center to help them care for their mental health; and launched Summer Bridge programs that smooth the transition from high school to college for incoming students studying in STEM and humanities disciplines.  

Access to student resources that ensure success is one of many pathways we’re building toward our vision to become the leading source of Christian higher education in California. We’re ensuring that every student has access to the transformational educational experience for which Vanguard is known and that they are prepared for the career and calling God has for them. Another way we’re doing this is by making a Vanguard education accessible, which we’re doing through scholarships and financial aid; and I’m pleased to share that through the support of friends like you, 98% of our students receive financial aid.  

Student success goes beyond ensuring our students graduate and find a job or start a career. We know that there is a strong relationship between receiving a degree in higher education and earnings, but our focus goes beyond career achievements. At Vanguard, we’re developing world-changers who are passionate about pursuing God’s call on their lives. Our faculty and staff come alongside our students to provide them with the unique and genuine care and support they need to thrive–whether they’re part of a legacy family who has called Vanguard home for generations, or if they are first-generation pioneers of higher education in their family or community.  

We believe that God has placed Vanguard in southern California to equip students in this region and beyond as we take seriously our call to live out our Christ-centered mission to pursue knowledge, cultivate character, deepen faith, and equip each student for a Spirit-empowered life of Christ-centered leadership and service.