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The term First-Generation, Low-Income (FGLI) captures a diverse group of students. At Penn these students have the same high SAT scores and the same motivation and ambitions as their peers but can sometimes feel alienated in the classroom and for various reasons (read more here) may not always perform to the best of their abilities. Instructors hoping to address the concerns of these students can begin with this set of questions.

Instructors can signal their interest in teaching a range of students by expressing the value of diversity in their syllabus. Such a statement can help students (even those who are already comfortable in traditional classrooms) feel like they belong.

As you draft your syllabus ask yourself (and explain to students where appropriate):

  • How can you make sure everyone has a chance to participate? Where and when can students ask questions?
  • How can you include a more diverse set of authors or issues in your readings?
  • What can you say to let all students know you value them in class? Sample language you might use for welcoming students into class.
  • How can you design the class to help these students? (CETLI has a list of evidence-based practices).

All Penn students should be challenged in class but they often want to know what they need to do and why the hard work they do matters. Setting clear expectations and guidelines for class can make sure that students know how best to reach the goals you set for them.

  • What do students need to be able to do before class starts? What pre-requisites are there for this class?
  • What should students expect in terms of grading?
  • What should students expect to do in class? (This might be particularly important in classes where there are recitations or in classes that use active learning.)
  • What can students do to succeed? You may also want to show students that you want them to do well by providing guidelines for success.

Studies show that students who go to office hours and make a connection with a professor do better in class and are more likely to persist in that field. But FGLI students sometimes don’t know what office hours are for and avoid making the connections that might help them thrive. Some instructors have a statement about office hours in their syllabus.

Instructors assign books and material that they know will help students learn but those materials may be too expensive for some students. Instructors concerned about course costs should carefully weigh what they assign and try to find materials that are both intellectually worthwhile and cost effective.

There are costs that simply cannot be avoided. Fortunately Penn has resources to help students find materials at lower or no cost.

Library course reserves. The library can reserve some copies of textbooks that students can use in the library. The library may also be able to provide access to a certain number of texts through electronic reserves that students will be able to access remotely.

FGLI textbook library. FGLI students are able to check out any of the 4,000 donated textbooks in their lending library.

Here are some ways that instructors can talk about course costs on their syllabus.

Below is an example of a syllabus statement that supports students’ basic needs:

It is important to me that you have the resources you need to be able to focus on learning in this course – this includes both the necessary academic materials as well as taking care of your day-to-day needs.

Students experiencing difficulty affording the course materials should reach out to the Penn First Plus office (

Students who are struggling to afford sufficient food to eat every day and/or lack a safe and suitable space to live should contact Student Intervention Services (

Students may also wish to contact their Financial Aid Counselor or Academic Advisor about these concerns.

You are welcome to notify me if any of these challenges are affecting your success in this course, as long as you are comfortable doing so – I may have resources to support you.