Friday, July 13, 2018

Building Bridges to Student Success

By Marilee Petranovich  
The U.S. Department of Education administers a series of student assistance initiatives that all fall under the overarching title of “Federal TRIO programs.”  Of the eight grant-funded programs available, UNM-Gallup operates two:  Student Support Services (SSS) and Upward Bound (UB).  All TRIO services are designed to provide educational support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Generally, they are available to students who are first in their families to attend college, those who qualify as low-income or who have documented disabilities.  Participants fall along a pipeline that ranges from middle school to post-baccalaureate programs.  The TRIO competitive grants are predominantly awarded to institutions of higher education.

The goal of the SSS program is to assist college students with academic development and basic success strategies to encourage completion and graduation.  This is done through a combination of personalized advising, academic tutoring, financial literacy training, career and transfer counseling and exposure to cultural events.

Kimmila Simms is the Student Program Specialist for the SSS program at UNM-Gallup.  In that role, she also operates the very successful Lobo Academy which is a summer bridge program available to newly admitted freshmen and non-traditional returning students.  Now in its 7th year, Lobo Academy is an intensive 6-week boot camp that works to ease the transition into college.  Participants receive instruction in English and math as well as a University 101 course where the strongly committed students are coached in college success strategies such as study skills, time management and campus navigation techniques. 

Students are pre- and post-tested to monitor gains and most advance at least one grade level in one or both core subjects.   All Lobo Academy graduates automatically transfer into the SSS program.  According to Simms, “Lobo Academy provides summer support to incoming freshmen, then Student Support Services continues that assistance throughout their time at UNM-Gallup.  We want to plant the seed and establish the goal of graduating, transferring and continuing education.  We believe continuing on for a bachelor’s degree is our biggest goal.” 
The intensive oversight provided by SSS does work.  The UNM-Gallup program exceeded every federal objective as set by the U.S. Department of Education in their most recent annual assessment.  As documented by Simms, the federally approved goal for participants persisting from one academic year to the next year was set at 67%.  The actual rate achieved for the 2016-2017 academic year was 80%.  The approved rate for good academic standing was 75% and the achieved rate was 91%.  UNM-Gallup had a projected rate of 15% for participants to complete their associate’s degree within 4 years and achieved a rate of 23%.   Simms attributes much of this success to the personalized services as well as the preparation work of Lobo Academy.  “Academy participants engage in workshops, panel discussions with TRIO alumni, campus and transfer trips, cultural enrichment as well as introductions to procedures necessary to navigate postsecondary systems.”

The second TRIO program at UNM-Gallup is the newly implemented Upward Bound.  UB provides free college and career readiness instruction to 9th – 11th graders.  The UB program is in its first year at UNM-Gallup and supports participants as they prepare to enter college. The goal is to increase the rate at which students graduate from high school and matriculate to college by providing supplemental instruction in core subjects.  Brittany Tabor, UB Program Director, is currently coordinating the summer component of the program which is a 6-week crash course in English, math and humanities.  By working closely with her students’ home high school, Tabor tailors the program to meet the expectation of the next school year for all participants.

Each week of the summer UB program concentrates on a different academic area and most of the sessions are highly interactive and try to touch on different learning styles.  College campus visits, public speaking workshops, technology training and a leadership conference will round out the summer portion of UB.  Tabor spoke about a special science and math initiative that UB presented to students as part of the summer program.  “We were able to partner with the Washington, D.C.-based LAB 29 which is a program aimed at providing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum to areas with high Native American populations.  This was a very exciting project that was aimed at generating interest and enthusiasm in the STEM fields especially in areas of technology.” 

Once participants return to school in the fall, the UB program will stay with them to provide advisement, tutoring, workshops for students and their parents.  The UB grant is funded for five years and includes a strong data collection component to assess successful completion of Department of Education objectives. Tabor loves the work she is doing and how it is helping students become confident in their abilities.  “My heart is really in the TRIO programs.  We want students to know they have options and choices so we expose them to different types of institutions and degree and certificate programs while providing tools for success.”

For more information please contact:           
Marilee Petranovich
(505) 863-7770

Could a Community College be Right for You?

By Marilee Petranovich 

When considering the large number of choices available for higher education, the decision of where or how to attend college can seem overwhelming.  In-state or out-of-state? On-line, face-to-face, or a combination of both?  Public or private?  4-year or 2-year institution?   While 4-year institutions make perfect sense for many students, the traditional schedule of moving directly from high school to a full-service university may not be the best decision for every student.  According to the College Board, 4 of 10 graduating high school students are initially attending community colleges making them the fastest growing sector of postsecondary education.  For many students a 2-year community college offers many advantages.

Lower Cost 
Tuition and fees at 2-year institutions are much lower than at larger universities.  This savings can translate into lower debt, even if students only enroll for the first two years before transferring to a larger institution.  The average in-state tuition rate for 4-year public colleges is $9,970 per year.  This compares to most 2-year public community colleges where annual tuition for a fulltime student can be approximately $2,000.  Tuition and fees at UNM-Gallup are $1,932 per year, for example.  Higher education at an affordable price is a hallmark of community colleges.

Closer to Home 
With easier geographic access to community colleges, students can live at home while attending classes.  Not only does this save money on housing, but it can be especially important for students who have families, jobs and community responsibilities that make it hard to relocate.  This also allows for more flexibility, especially for non-traditional students or for those who want to take a slower pace of a few classes at a time to allow for more work/school/life balance.  According to US News and World Report (June 10, 2015), nearly 60% of community college students attend classes part time.  Being able to effectively combine school and home life makes schools that are closer to home attractive options for many.

Complete Basics 
Most core classes at community colleges are easily transferable to other in-state public universities due to carefully designed articulation agreements.  This allows students to complete their basic general education requirements at a lower tuition rate before transferring for a bachelor’s degree.  At the less expensive tuition rates, students can also feel more comfortable in exploring academic and career options without feeling pressured to immediately declare a program of study.

Focus on Teaching 
Community colleges have less of a research mission so faculty can be more fully focused on teaching and providing personal attention to students.  Additionally, many 2-year college professors are experts in their field which allows them to bring real world experience to their curriculum.  At UNM-Gallup, 30% of faculty have earned a PhD, 76% have earned a master’s or terminal degree and many work professionally in their teaching areas.

Small Class Sizes 
The average class size at UNM-Gallup is 25 students and the student to faculty ratio is 18:1.  This closely aligns with comparative figures of community colleges nationally.  Many larger universities may have classes of 300-400 students, especially in courses that meet core requirements.  Smaller class sizes offer more ways for students to relate to faculty as well as other students.

Career and Professional Programs 
Many community colleges have a strong emphasis on career and technical education programs that allow students to exit the classroom and get into the workforce in a short time and on their own schedule.  A wide variety of programs provides students many options for career training that is relevant and regionally marketable.  Many professional certificate and associate degree programs at 2-year colleges can provide initial training needed for immediate employment or retraining for enhanced or re-entry employment.

There are many considerations for students when considering their college options.  Perhaps a 2-year institution makes sense as a place to start, continue or complete your education.  For questions about your choices or for specific program information, check with your high school counselor or a community college advisor to learn about the many ways you can make college an affordable, achievable and life-changing choice for you.

For more information please contact:           
Marilee Petranovich
(505) 863-7770