Aug. 14, 2015

Contact: Nelda Olvera

Cal Poly Receives $1.45 Million Grant to Assist Low-Income, First-Generation Students

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly has received a $1.45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to provide first-generation, low-income students with the support services they need for college success.

The funding comes from the TRIO Student Support Services Program. Cal Poly was among 20 California State University campuses to receive grants that support academic tutoring, counseling services, financial literacy support, mentoring programs and career counseling — services that help place students on a pathway to success in meeting their educational goals.

“Student Support Services focuses on student strengths and provides support services so that those strengths are enhanced,” said Nelda Olvera, Cal Poly’s director of Student Academic Services. “Ultimately, our goal is to provide a family of support away from home.”

For the past three decades, Student Support Services has helped first-generation students (those who are in the first generation of their families to attend college) as well as students with disabilities to overcome obstacles that impact success.

The program has made an impact, she said, adding that 92 percent of Student Support Services participants continue into their next year, a key persistence rate. And nearly nine in 10 participants have grades of C or better.

Cal Poly will receive $289,325 annually during the five-year grant cycle to assist 250 new and continuing students each year.

“We were first funded in 1984,” Olvera added. “The support SSS provides our students gives them the confidence to thrive and shine in Cal Poly’s rigorous educational environment.”

Cindy Nguyen, program coordinator for Student Support Services, knows firsthand about the success of the program, which she participated in as a Cal Poly undergraduate.

“As a first-generation and low-income student, it was hard to find free resources to help me compete with my peers academically,” she said. “The program really helped me to believe that I had a fighting chance in my academic career and that I could be just as good as all my high school classmates attending universities like UCLA, UC Davis and UC Berkeley.”

Student participants receive help planning and scheduling their classes. Academic advisors provide personal support and encouragement, while a mentor helps them transition into campus life.

“We provide a support system at Cal Poly and create a home away from home,” she said.

While Cal Poly has been involved with the federal TRIO program for more than 30 years, the program dates to the 1960s when the Educational Opportunity Act of 1964 established Upward Bound, which assists college-bound high school students.

The following year, the Higher Education Act created Talent Search, also for high school students. Finally, another program, Special Services for Disadvantaged Students (later known as Student Support Services), was launched in 1968. Together, this trio of federally funded programs encouraged access to higher education for low-income students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, by 1998, TRIO programs had become a vital pipeline to opportunity, serving nontraditional students, displaced workers and veterans.

The original programs have grown to eight in the past half-century, adding Educational Opportunity Centers in 1972, Training Program for Federal TRIO programs in 1976, the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program in 1986, Upward Bound Math/Science in 1990 and the TRIO Dissemination Partnership in 1998.

Each program is funded through separate grants.

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