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Home / Articles / News / Features /  The Freshman

The Freshman

Santa Fe Community College has a plan for reversing first-year student dropout rates—but can a local institution overcome a national epidemic?

April 6, 2011, 1:00 am

After a 10-year break from school, Jason Deleau re-entered academia at SFCC—and passed with flying colors thanks to a federal student support program.
Credits: Alexa Schirtzinger

SFCC faculty and administrator already have seen the results of such a compre-hensive program—at least for a small group of students.

TRIO, a US Department of Education grant program, funds programs specifically targeted toward supporting low-income and first-generation students.

Both groups are heavily represented at SFCC—and both tend to have lower retention and academic success rates.

In fall 2009, 58 percent of the students entering SFCC identified as first-generation college students—far higher than the national average of 39 percent. A whopping 85 percent, in 2008-09, were eligible for some type of financial aid.

“The strongest correlation to students’ succeeding and getting a degree is socioeconomic status,” Liss says. First-generation students also face significant challenges, he says, because “a first-generation [student’s] family has not necessarily valued education as a No. 1 priority.”

In fiscal year 2010, SFCC received $238,496 in TRIO grant awards to provide student support services—academic skill development, assistance with developmental coursework and motivational help—to 160 low-income, first-generation students.

This is a small portion of the students who need such services, but for those who received them, the program worked.

Jason Deleau grew up in Colorado and, after graduating from high school in 1999, joined the Army and worked odd jobs.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything; my résumé is like five pages long,” Deleau laughs.

But after moving to New Mexico to care for a family member, Deleau tired of his transient lifestyle.

“When you go to a new city and you don’t know anybody, you’re forced to pick up jobs at Labor Ready or anywhere you can until you get acquainted,” Deleau explains. “I was just tired of that. I was tired of searching, searching, searching.”

So Deleau registered to enroll at SFCC in fall 2009. Before classes started, he received a letter informing him that he was eligible to apply for TRIO.

TRIO, Deleau says, played a significant role in his college experience. After 10 years away from the academic world, he often needed help navigating the system; TRIO made it easy to ask.

“They just took me under their wing,” Deleau says. In addition to expanding his academic experience through field trips, group activities and awards dinners, “they allowed me express concerns or ask questions without being judgmental,” Deleau says. “When I had to write scholarship essays, they would proofread them and help me build them and just give me confidence.”

As a result, Deleau blossomed. He joined student government—he’s currently the treasurer—and, within two years of enrolling, is on the verge of completing his associate’s degree. He has excelled academically; this year, he became one of 38 students at community colleges around the state who qualified for two years of free tuition at an in-state college of his choice. He has already enrolled at UNM, and he’ll start working toward a bachelor’s degree in the fall.

In contrast to most community college students, TRIO students traditionally exhibit higher retention and graduation rates. A US Department of Education study on TRIO’s student support services program—the same program in effect at SFCC—found statistically significant increases in both retention and degree attainment.

Deleau says expanding the types of services he enjoyed in TRIO would significantly alter many students’ experiences at SFCC.

“I see a lot of people get angry and eventually drop out because they can’t find certain classes, or they can’t get help with this or that,” Deleau says.

In Deleau’s case, though, the extra attention helped him find his calling. When he finishes his degree, he wants to become a teacher.  SFR

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