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New position created to support first-generation students

Justin Clapp, pictured, is a former assistant director of financial aid and the new director of outreach and access.
Justin Clapp, pictured, is a former assistant director of financial aid and the new director of outreach and access.

In an effort to ramp up support for first-generation college students, Duke has created a new university-level financial aid position—a director of outreach and access, who will cater to low-income and first-generation applicants.

Justin Clapp, former assistant director of financial aid and a first-generation college student himself, is the first to serve in the new position, providing support for students who are the first in their families to go to college. The director of outreach and access will help coordinate efforts of admissions officers and faculty members who are working to address issues first-generation students face, Clapp said.

The position was born out of University officials’ belief that it is Duke’s responsibility to make students successful once they arrive on campus—regardless of their socioeconomic background, said Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost of undergraduate education.

“We are successful in bringing a diverse set of students to Duke," Nowicki said. "We are somewhere in the middle of the pack in supporting these students—but we are accelerating faster than other schools.”

Clapp noted that by creating a separate position, Duke will be able to craft a "unique approach" to supporting first-generation students.

“Students choose Duke because of a combination of its immense academic offerings, the ease of the South and social life," Clapp said, noting that the aim is to give students not only the financial capital but also the social capital to adjust to these aspects of Duke culture.

Dean Nowicki cited examples of other colleges that have focused on increasing support for first-generation college students, including Georgetown University, Bucknell Univeristy and Franklin & Marshall University.

The new position is the latest in a series of moves the University has made to better accommodate lower-income students. Clapp's appointment comes two years after Duke began 1G, a pre-orientation program for first-generation college students, in 2012. The coordinators of 1G give students the opportunity to ask questions about topics ranging from how to save money on campus to Duke’s social culture.

Clapp said he has not yet reviewed the formal feedback from this year’s program but noted the informal student feedback he has received has been positive.

In 2010, the University launched the Socioeconomic Diversity Initiative to determine how class differences affect students' time at Duke. After years of researching focus groups, the Initiative released a report in 2012 including recommendations for policy changes concerning everything from the dining plan to course-related fees.

Since the release of the report, administrators have begun incorporating several of the suggestions, including a new financial literacy website and an updated policy on class fees.

Nowicki added that there is substantial discussion between President Richard Brodhead and the Board of Trustees concerning ways to continue increasing institutional support for first-generation college students.

"In the next decade, the relevancy of top elite private institutions will be called into question if we are not educating top students," Nowicki said.


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