Monday, October 26, 2009

Federal Program Helps Disadvantaged Students Succeed in College

Today's Washington Post is reporting that the federal Student Support Services program, launched during the Nixon administration, is today part of a larger effort to help disadvantaged students overcome academic and cultural barriers to success in higher education. The program is part of TRIO, a group of national initiatives aimed at raising the odds that a disadvantaged student will stay in college, get good grades and graduate.

However, supporters of the programs are not satisfied.  They claim that the programs have languished through years of fiscal neglect. Total funding to the TRIO programs -- $848 million in the fiscal year that began this month -- has risen about 1 percent in the past five years. TRIO currently serves 838,591 students, fewer than it did in 2003.

The Post continues:

The support programs are closely linked to the federal Pell grant, a $25 billion fund that helps students from low-income families pay for college. Unlike TRIO, funding for Pell has increased by more than one-third over the past three years. A student aid bill that cleared the House last month would add $40 billion to Pell over the next decade but does not address TRIO.

Advocates say the support programs are key to the success of students who receive Pell grants. They argue that money is not enough.  Arnold Mitchem, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, DC, that supports the TRIO programs, had this to say: "You can give them all the money in the world, but if you don't address the confidence issues, the skills issue, you're not going to make it."

Statistics apparently support this view.  Federal data show that 29 percent of all postsecondary students complete a bachelor's degree in six years and 10 percent attain associate's degrees.  But when Pell is combined with the support programs, the graduation rate rises by about 10 points.


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