The rising cost of higher education continues to make news, as does the ever-widening financial hurdle facing low-income students in their quest to earn a college degree — especially without taking on too much debt. Average student loan debt continues to rise as financial aid programs fund a smaller percentage of the total cost of college. At the same time, many high school students appear to be under-prepared for the rigor of college, especially low-income students from smaller or rural high schools.
Students who receive financial aid, such as Pell grants, combined with academic support, such as tutoring and help navigating campus life offered by programs like TRIO, are much more likely to graduate on time than their peers. The combination of financial support and academic support greatly increases success rates for low-income students. One without the other has considerably less impact. The transition to college for low-income students — many of whom are the first in their family to attend college — can be filled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, often overcome with the right support. TRIO programs around the country, including those at Castleton, Johnson and Lyndon state colleges, Vermont Tech, CCV, Southern Vermont College and UVM, serve first-generation and low-income students and offer those solutions.
By intervening early in the college process and building strong professional relationships over a period of months or years, the staff of each TRIO program creates a consistent and intensive climate of support for students as they strive to better their lives through higher education. As the director of a TRIO program at Castleton State College for nearly 10 years, I have seen first-hand that these programs make a vast difference in the lives of our students. Not only does TRIO open doors for low-income Vermonters and increase their likelihood of earning a college degree, it makes a difference for their future families and communities.
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