Funding to Support Low-Income, First-Gen Students

By Sonya Stinson

Eastern Maine Community College builds on its efforts to provide funding for this population to keep them on track.

With a $220,000 grant from the Department of Education, Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC) is launching a host of services this fall to help low-income, first-generation and disabled students succeed. The ultimate goal is to guide 150 of these students through the college experience toward graduating from EMCC or transferring to a four-year institution, says Elizabeth Russell, academic dean.

An Achieving the Dream institution, Eastern Maine Community College has implemented a number of changes to improve retention and graduation rates for all students. For example, the college created a Student Success Center as a one-stop access point for support such as disability services, tutoring, supplemental instruction, testing and academic advising. Last year, the center provided more than 3,000 hours of academic tutoring.

One of the most effective initiatives, Russell says, is the free Summer Success Academy, a two-week residential program or a four-week commuter program. In order to bypass developmental coursework in college, program participants work on building their writing and mathematical skills. Participants also earn credit for the First Year Experience course.

“We have found that this program is particularly effective because of the engagement opportunities that students have with not only their peers but also the faculty and staff,” Russell says.

How the funding will help students

Funding for the initiative comes through the federal TRIO Student Support Services program, which is designed to assist disadvantaged students. While some of the services will be similar to those that all EMCC students can access through the college’s existing Student Success Center, outreach to the new Student Support Services program’s targeted population will be more proactive.

“What we really hope to do is be in close communication with students’ instructors to make sure that the students are indeed remaining on track, and that they’re not slipping through the cracks,” Russell says.

For example, each student enrolled in the TRIO program must meet with an adviser twice a month and discuss instructors’ assessments of how the student is doing academically. If additional help, such as tutoring, is needed, the adviser will ensure that the TRIO student receives that assistance.

“In our general population, students only receive tutoring if they ask for it,” Russell says.

By the end of September, administrators hope to have program staff in place, including a TRIO program director, a full-time adviser and a tutor coordinator, who will match students with the appropriate tutor or peer mentor.

Besides academic services such as tutoring, course planning and supplemental math instruction, the students will also have access to career guidance, financial literacy information and transfer assistance. They will also enroll in a new First Year Experience course, similar to the one the college now offers to all liberal studies students, but with some elements tailored to the needs of TRIO students. That course, Russell says, “is focused on providing students with the skills they need to be successful not only in college but in life in general — things like taking responsibility for themselves.”

For many low-income, first-generation and disabled college students, it can be especially difficult to figure out the complex maze of applying for financial aid, choosing a major and adding and dropping classes. Advisers will help students better understand issues such as how dropping a class might affect eligibility for financial aid. Students will also learn how to assess their ability to repay a student loan.

“There is going to be a lot of financial literacy training,” says Russell, who notes that low-income students in particular often need guidance when it comes to financial aid. “They may not know the impact of taking out student loans — the fact that they are going to have to pay those back and what that all means.”

The TRIO program will provide one-stop access to a wide range of services designed to make the college experience less daunting.

“It’s really helping students fully understand what’s available to them, to help them be successful,” Russell says.

Sonya Stinson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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