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ECC TRIO program is getting results

By Tracie Self

Ellsworth Community College recently received approval for a federal TRIO-SSS grant for the 2015-2020 funding cycle. TRIO is a program designed to improve retention and graduation rates among first generation, low income, and disabled college students. Historically, these populations have been particularly vulnerable in higher education as they often enter college without the personal resources to overcome barriers to their educational success.

At ECC, we find that students who meet the criteria for inclusion in the TRIO program typically have difficulties working through formal procedures, such as dealing with financial aid. Eligible students often lack study skills and critical thinking skills, and they are less likely to ask for assistance from instructors, staff, and their peers. Each of these factors increases their risk of dropping out. TRIO provides resources to meet these needs.

Ellsworth previously received a TRIO grant (during 2010-2015), but our new grant expands upon the previous one by increasing the number of students we are able to serve from 40 to 140. While a jump from 40 to 140 was significant at a college our size, thus far we have filled all of our slots for the TRIO program for this year, and are now accepting students for our waiting list.

In addition to increasing in the number of students served, we also received an increase in our allocation of grant money, enabling us to grow our grant funding from $16,000 per year to more than $54,000. So far this year we have awarded $27,485, and will be able to give out the remainder during the spring or summer semesters. This competitive funding stream has funded students’ grants for outstanding bills which would have prevented them from registering, along with purchasing textbooks, and keeping their loan debt at lower levels.

Most important with TRIO are the personal connections we’ve made with students. I’ve worked with students who were attempting to complete coursework at ECC while also working to send money home to struggling family members. We have been able to assist students who are at risk academically to increase their GPA by providing focused advising, supplemental tutoring, and instructional resources.

As I have watched the program grow from 40 to 140 students, I have witnessed just how effective this program can be. Our Fall to Spring retention rate was 92 percent! My staff has done an excellent job of creating relationships with students, and this is evidenced by our early signs of success with our current TRIO participants.

Tracie Self is ECC’s Director of Student Support Services & TRIO.

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