Federal TRIO programs have widespread impact in Arizona

Phoenix, AZ | Submitted by Michelle Thomas

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In 1965, educational policymakers realized that the new FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) wasn’t being utilized by populations that needed it the most – namely low income and first-generation college-goers. As a result, Federal TRIO Programs were developed to help youth on the path to postsecondary learning. Today around 2,000 TRIO are at work in states all over the U.S., including dozens here in Arizona.

The grant programs are far-reaching efforts to engage at-risk youth from middle school through postsecondary education. With eight available programs, including Talent Search, Upward Bound, and Student Support Services, TRIO efforts are specially designed to aid low-income individuals, first-generation college students, veterans, and individuals with disabilities as they find their way through the academic pipeline.

For instance, Arizona Western College (AWC) in Yuma is home to three TRIO initiatives, the first of which was launched in 1991. The Upward Bound program is currently working with more than 70 high schoolers who have their sights set on college. These students commit to after-school meetings, six Saturday sessions per year and a six-week summer camp to provide academic, logistical and personal support as they progress toward higher learning. Among these students, 100 percent have persisted to graduation and 86 percent enrolled in post-secondary institutions, a rate far higher than Yuma County’s average of 65 percent.

The Talent Search program starts earlier – with students in sixth grade and is aiding nearly 600 students now, in Yuma, Wellton, and Parker. Using a combination of academic, career and financial counseling, Talent Search is helping students lay the foundation for future postsecondary learning. With a strong focus on financial aid and the process for getting into college, Talent Search is making a substantial difference. 100 percent of youth who participated have gone on to graduate from high school and 76 percent enrolled in post-secondary institution.

The team at Arizona Western College also offering the Student Support Services program, which is aimed at improving retention and achievement of current college students. By providing tutoring, personal support, and even grants, the Student Support Services program has increased the persistence rate to 84 percent and helped 455 receive an Associate’s Degree or Certificate; 35 percent of whom transferred to a 4-year institution.

Arizona State University (ASU) has also employed nine different TRIO programs. The TRIO Talent Search program at Arizona State University launched in spring 2017 through a partnership with the Tolleson Union High School District. This pre-college program provides academic support, university exposure and the resources to help first-generation or low-income high school students graduate ready to succeed in college. Through academic enrichment, college enrollment help and support in the financial aid process, the program helps to develop students’ potential through emotional and experiential guidance.

With more than 500 high schoolers served every year, Talent Search is helping to ensure that students don’t get discouraged during the complicated, lengthy journey to higher education. ASU Talent Search staff are on campus at least one day per week to maintain momentum, check on grades, provide guidance, and offer workshops. And they even plan off-campus events, including visits to university campuses, test prep workshops, and scholarship events. Through staff guidance, more than 75 percent of program participants are enrolled in the core classes required for college admissions by the Arizona Board of Regents. Among the first graduating class, 65 percent enrolled in college, compared to the statewide average of 53 percent.

Overall, the TRIO programs are helping students succeed both inside and outside of the classroom. By changing mindsets and providing key resources, these critical initiatives will play a key role in advancing the vision of the Arizona Education Progress Meter, which aims to improve education for all Arizona youth. With the unique focus on first-generation, low-income, students with disabilities and veterans, the pursuit of a college degree has never been more within reach.

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