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TRiO Levels the Playing Field for First Generation Students

Published July 22, 2019

A Dodge City Community College program designed to help specific students who often struggle in higher education reported high rates of success over this past year.

TRiO Student Support Services provides mentoring and community for nearly 150 students at DC3 who are first-generation college students, are from low-income families, or have disabilities.

The DC3 TRiO program has seen steadily rising student success rates, including this year’s 94 percent of students participating in the program in good academic standing and 88 percent either graduating or returning to school the next year – what the government calls the “persistence rate.”

Analysis shows that students who are the first in their family to go to college are often less prepared for the rigors of college.

Vanessa Hernandez from Dodge City started her college journey as a freshman at DC3. She is the first person from her family to attend college.

“When I first started, I really didn’t know where to go to even get started,” Vanessa said. “I was nervous, very nervous.”

Researchers agree that first-generation college students are at a disadvantage. They say there often exists a gap between what first-gen students expect from college and the reality that hits them once they’re enrolled. TRiO at Dodge City Community College bridges that gap for many students.

Vanessa transferred to a technical college in Manhattan after her first semester, seeking a big-city experience, but soon returned to Dodge City. She discovered that bigger doesn’t always mean better.

“It was difficult to find any one-to-one help,” she said. “You’re basically on your own.

“When I would ask for help, there weren’t many tutors or I would have to schedule a visit with an instructor around their timeframe.”

With her academic career potentially floundering before it really set sail, Vanessa returned to Dodge City. Her grade-point average had slipped – as well as her confidence.

“I was really unsure about my future,” she said. “I didn’t get the assistance I got here. My grades did suffer and I wasn’t sure that I would even finish.”

When Vanessa decided to return to DC3, she said the first stop she made was the TRiO office. TRiO provides academic tutoring, advice in course selection, financial aid and scholarship assistance, economic literacy, and help in applying and transferring to four-year universities. The program also facilitates trips to four-year schools so students are able to see first-hand their future facilities and instructors.

TRiO provides eligible DC3 students with a centralized location for assistance with just about every facet of college life. Vanessa received academic tutoring and mentoring to help her manage her time and effectively use resources.

The staff of TRiO have helped set Vanessa in a better direction, making sure her degree track was meeting her goals and helping her develop study skills and time management. “Now I know how to make time for my schoolwork and job and dance – and still be able to schedule time just for me,” Vanessa said.

“If they see that you’ve missed some class, they will always check in on you,” she said. “They really want to know when you are having any kind of trouble so they can help you figure out how to handle it.”

It’s the little details often passed down by parents or siblings who have gone to college that get missed by first-generation students, said DC3 President Harold Nolte.

Sometimes it’s knowing that you have to bring your own sheets if you live in the residence halls, or understanding how dropping a class will affect your degree track, or how to maintain financial aid eligibility, or even just how to get involved on campus or the community.

“First-generation students don’t have a parent or sibling who’s navigated college life,” Nolte said. “There are lots of details they can miss, simply because they aren’t aware all of their resources.

“Programs like TRiO at Dodge City Community College really help level the playing field for those students.”

Vanessa said that level playing field has made all the difference.

“I’m so much more sure of everything now,” Vanessa said. “The people in TRiO helped me make sure I’m on the right path this time.”

Vanessa’s plans are in full gear now. She is transferring to a dental hygiene school in San Antonio this semester.

“They really helped me challenge myself to keep moving forward and not stop at this level,” she said. “Thanks to TRiO I have everything on track and I’m confident I’ll get to where I want to be.”

By Scott Edger