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Waubonsee Community College's TRIO/Student Support Services program has helped hundreds of first-generation and low-income college students, as well as those with disabilities, succeed in college since the program was established in 1987.

Waubonsee TRIO Program Helps First-Generation Students Succeed in College

Sandra Jensen, Educational Advisor for Waubonsee Community College's TRIO/Student Support Services, meets with a student in her office at the Sugar Grove Campus. The TRIO program assists 200 students each year.

Many students enter college knowing roughly what to expect.

Such students are often the recipients of advice and guidance from parents, siblings and other relatives who may have graduated from, or at least attended college in the not-too-distant past. Or, perhaps they have benefited from years of college prep in high school or other places.

Other students, however, are less fortunate.

Coming from low-income backgrounds, or blazing their own trail into higher education, these students may need a little boost to help them conquer the rigors of college.

At Waubonsee Community College, that is where the team at TRIO/Student Support Services enters the scene.

Since 1987, TRIO/SSS has helped hundreds of students gain the help and support they need to not only complete college, but to thrive.

For its role in helping many of the most vulnerable of Waubonsee students succeed, Waubonsee is proud to recognize the people working within the TRIO/SSS program as part of its “Placing Learning First” program.

Funded by federal U.S. Department of Education grants awarded over five-year cycles and additional monies from the college, the Waubonsee TRIO/SSS program provides a broad range of academic services designed to assist first-generation, low-income students and students with disabilities.

The program, led by Manager Frankie Benson, includes a team of four other staff members and eight tutors working together to assist the 200 students who annually participate.

To participate in the program, students must meet certain criteria.

In addition to being a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, students eligible for assistance through TRIO must be enrolled at Waubonsee and working toward a degree or certificate.

Further, students eligible for TRIO must be a first-generation college student, meaning their parents or legal guardians did not graduate college with at least a bachelor’s degree; qualify as a low-income student; or be a student with a learning or physical disability. Two-thirds of students participating must be both first-generation college students and low-income, Benson said.

Once in the program, students become eligible for a range of assistance, including help with academic planning and course registration; individualized tutoring; help in applying for and obtaining scholarships and financial aid; help in transferring to four-year schools; and guidance with life skills.

“We can help with things like dealing with financial literacy and credit, or even etiquette while eating a meal when out on a job interview,” Benson said.

Additionally, TRIO arranges for students to attend a range of cultural events, including outings to museums, musical theater, or leadership conferences, and official college visits to four-year institutions in the region, including such schools as Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, among others.

And TRIO students also participate in organized volunteer activities at such local charitable organizations as Feed My Starving Children, among others.

“We become a kind of home-away-from-home for our students,” Benson said. “We want them to be comfortable in college and in a range of settings.”

Through the years, the results generated by TRIO have met or exceeded all goals for the Waubonsee program.

In 2012-13, for instance, 81 percent, or 162 of the 200 Waubonsee TRIO students, persisted in college, meaning they graduated, enrolled in the following fall term or graduated and transferred to a four-year school. That persistence rate has matched Waubonsee’s goal of 80 percent per year.

Ninety percent of the students were in good standing academically, meaning they held at least a 2.0 grade point average a year later, matching Waubonsee’s goal exactly.

Further, 56 percent of eligible students in 2012-13 attained a degree, while 55 percent of those attaining a degree transferred to a four-year school. Both of those metrics easily exceeded Waubonsee’s goals, which were set at 38 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

“TRIO makes a difference every day in the lives of our students,” Benson said. “We’re giving them the tools and assistance they need to reach their dreams."