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LaNaé Budden takes helm of First-Generation Center

New director eager to boost success, retention for first-generation students

At the heart of the University of South Carolina’s mission lies a commitment to nurturing an enriching environment where students can thrive. With more than 30,000 students calling the Columbia campus home, each student brings their own background to the college experience. Among them, a significant portion of the student body — 1 in 5 — identifies as first-generation. 

The diverse range of opportunities and hurdles that accompany the first-generation experience inspired university leadership to develop a new initiative, launching this fall: a First-Generation Center that will provide support and guidance to first-generation students so they can maximize opportunities to succeed. On March 15, the center welcomed its first director, LaNaé Budden.

Budden has spent nearly two decades growing her skills in strategic development and leadership, including her 18-year tenure at Columbia College, where she was vice president for student affairs and dean of students. Budden holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from Old Dominion University, a master’s degree in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. 

"I’m looking forward to creating another level of support for first-gen students to help them make the most of their Carolina experience."

LaNaé Budden
woman stands outside with a tree and building in the background


At both Bowling Green and Old Dominion, Budden worked with first-generation students, low-to-limited income students and students of color in mentorship and retention capacities, sparking her desire to orient her career toward serving these populations. Her work at Columbia College further equipped her to translate her goals to reality.

“Students are investing time and finances into their future, and my goal is to do all I can to help them graduate,” Budden says. “Previously serving in an executive leadership role at a small private college gave me an opportunity to see how a college functions, and the knowledge I have gained has helped me to assist students and their families.”

In her new role as First-Generation Center director, Budden will analyze data to identify prospects for growth in student retention and persistence, implement evidence-based practices to promote academic and social success, and collaborate with partners across campus to maximize participation in academic and co-curricular opportunities.

“The experience and enthusiasm Dr. Budden brings to this position are exactly what we hoped to find through our national search,” says Donna Arnett, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Her passion for first-generation students coupled with her record of exceptional higher education leadership make her the ideal selection.  First-generation students are an instrumental part of our campus, and we are excited to launch the First Gen Center to serve and support them. "

All the numbers, statistics and partnerships point back to the ultimate goal of creating a better student experience. Budden is eager to help foster a sense of community in the First-Generation Center, which she envisions as a hub where students, faculty and staff members drop in to interact with each other, build supportive relationships and access resources. She expects to see some of the greatest impact through the first-generation living and learning community in Maxcy, which will house 150 first year and returning students.

“I’m here to serve the campus community, and I’m really looking forward to building upon the foundation that’s already been laid by the TRIO program, GARNET Office, first-gen sub-committees and other initiatives that have served the first-gen population at the University of South Carolina,” Budden says. “I’m looking forward to creating another level of support for first-gen students to help them make the most of their Carolina experience.”