WMU News

Federal funding to help special populations

Sept. 2, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University will receive more than $700,000 in federal funding over the next four years to help ensure academic success for low-income, first generation and disabled college students.

The University has received a $182,104 grant through the U.S. Department of Education's TRIO program for the 1997-98 academic year and will receive similar amounts annually through the 2000-01 academic year. The new cycle of TRIO grants will support WMU's Student Support Program, a part of the Center for Academic Support Programs. The University's Student Support Program has received TRIO funding since 1984.

The TRIO program was established by Congress in 1965 to help students overcome class, social, academic and cultural barriers to higher education. The University's program serves as many as 270 students each year who are eligible for the program through disability, income level or because they represent their family's first generation to attend college. The students are supported with services tailored to meet their needs. Those free services include academic and personal growth workshops, tutoring, opportunities to meet and discuss progress with staff, advice on career planning and academic advising.

According to Lynn Lee, director of WMU's program, the services provided are successful. She says students enrolled in the Student Support Program at the University have an 86 percent retention rate, compared to a retention rate of 63 percent for students who are eligible but not enrolled in the program. The feedback the staff receives from students also reflects the program's impact.

"Many students come into the program without fully realizing the kinds of challenges they'll face in college," Lee says. "They tell us that this program helps them come to grips with those challenges as they encounter them and it helps turn the whole college experience into a success."

Lee says the staff helps students in areas other than academics and reports students come to them for advice on topics ranging from financial aid to problems with a roommate.

"We don't always have answers for them, but we can always help them locate the resources they might need to deal with an issue," Lee says.

Program staff members teach special sections of successful courses known as "University 101: Freshman Seminar" and "University 102: Career Exploration and Development." Those sections are reserved for Student Support Program students. The program also employs 45 undergraduates who serve as project assistants as well as peer mentors to program participants. Their duties include meeting weekly with small groups of Student Support Program students and helping students build study and time-management skills.

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