TRiO, a unique nationwide federally funded program aimed at supporting underrepresented and first generation college students, has helped nearly 300 CSUSM students succeed in achieving their academic goals since 1993.

With a current annual program enrollment of 200 first-generation, low-income, and/or students with disabilities, the University’s TRiO Student Support Services (SSS) seeks to increase the retention and graduation rates of college students traditionally at a higher risk for dropping out. Research has continually shown that college students facing great financial hardship or lacking strong academic support are more likely to quit or fail at a higher rate than students without those disadvantages.

“Having TRiO SSS here on campus to support me as I transition into college has been essential as a first-generation college student,” said freshman Kevin Fodor, who recently completed STEP, a unique summer enrichment program designed to help freshmen transition into academic life at CSUSM. “It’s a support system that I don’t otherwise have at home. My family has been incredibly encouraging, but navigating the college process is a foreign experience to them. Without the academic support of TRiO, I would undoubtedly feel lost and become discouraged very quickly.”

The TRiO program, created as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, was designed to support disadvantaged students in obtaining a baccalaureate degree.  It was the first national college access and retention program to address the serious social and cultural barriers to education in the United States. Upward Bound, Talent Search and SSS – all of which are offered at CSUSM – became the original “trio” of federally funded initiatives, which eventually grew to encompass eight different college opportunity programs. Over 850,000 low-income, first-generation students and students with disabilities – from sixth grade through college graduation – are served by more than 2,800 programs nationally.

The success of TRiO SSS, which has been hosted uninterruptedly on campus for nearly 20 years, is evident. With a retention rate of 91 percent and equally the same percent in good academic standing, students who would usually be considered high risk are in fact not only doing great, they are thriving according to Advisor Joe LeDesma.

“Our focus is retention and graduation,” he said. “From academic tutoring and workshops to financial literacy and cultural enrichment activities, everything we do is based on how we can retain our students and foster an environment where they can succeed both in and out of the classroom.”

That success is demonstrated in the program’s graduation rates. Comparatively, the six-year graduation rate for all freshmen admitted to CSUSM in 2004 was 45 percent, whereas TRiO SSS reported an impressive 62 percent graduation rate among its students.

“This is even more remarkable for our students who are first-generation or low-income, as they generally graduate at a rate less than the general population,” added Heather Northway, director of TRiO SSS. “To be ahead of the general population is astounding.”

Currently, the demand for TRiO SSS at CSUSM is greater than its service capacity. For fall, the program received more than 100 applications from eligible incoming students looking to fill 45 slots. In fact, in 2009, 62.7 percent of all students enrolled at CSUSM met TRiO SSS eligibility requirements, indicating a huge need on campus for the program.

Although the program has a proven track record of success, SSS will soon face cuts from its federal budget. The severity of those cuts is still unknown.

Five months ago both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed legislation to cut $38.5 billion from the federal budget, which resulted in a cut of $26.6 million to TRiO nationwide – cuts that have yet to trickle down to the 2,800 programs. These cuts are the first wave of reductions. Sadly, Department of Education officials expect cuts to deepen after President Obama recently signed into law the Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling of the U.S. and called for the creation of a new congressional committee tasked with producing legislation to reduce the national deficit by $1.5 trillion. TRiO is once again facing the budget chopping block.

“We’re in limbo right now and we’re hoping a decision will be made soon so we can plan appropriately and continue providing our same exceptional level of support services to our students,” explained LeDesma.

While the Department of Education has suggested that student enrollment will not be decreased, some supportive services and access to program counselors are among the items likely to fall in the red. Currently, the demand for TRiO SSS at CSUSM is greater than its service capacity. For fall, the program received more than 100 applications from incoming students looking to fill 45 slots. Still, the services that TRiO SSS provides for those in the program are continuing to help students realize their potential.

“I didn’t have parents I could approach to proofread my college essays or help me work through statistics; I just couldn’t depend on them for that,” said junior Kimmy Palafox, who applied and was accepted into TRiO SSS as a freshman two years ago. “Before coming to college, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up and meet the expectations and demands of college life. But TRiO has made it possible for me to be connected and succeed.”

The TRiO program, created as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, was designed to support disadvantaged students in obtaining a baccalaureate degree.