Thomas Nelson Community College TRiO Program Helps Students Stay and Succeed in College

Published: May 31, 2007

Barriers to enrolling in college may have all but diminished but staying in college can be challenging for some students given the demands. As a result, many leave. Recognizing this, like many colleges across the Commonwealth, Thomas Nelson Community College has increased efforts to ensure that students stay the course. Thomas Nelson implemented the TRiO program in fall 2005 to bolster student success and address student retention.

Eighty percent of students who participated in the program during 2005-2006 returned and began classes in fall 2006, according to Virginia Keithley, TRiO Program Director for Thomas Nelson. That figure topped the federal government’s mandate of 60 percent and the program met another federal objective with 60 percent of its 2005-2006 participants earning cumulative grade point averages (GPA) of 2.5 or better, she added.

“Because of the open-door policy community colleges have, the situation can sometimes become that of a revolving door. Therefore, community colleges may have a greater challenge with regards to retention considering that many of our students are first-generation. This means that they may not have any experience to draw from such as a parent or relative who attended college to help them deal with the demands of higher education,” said Keithley. “At Thomas Nelson our focus is always on student success and we do everything necessary to ensure that students are exposed to the tools they need to perform well academically, persist to graduation and ultimately transfer to four-year institutions. TRiO is at the forefront of this mission.”

Keithley explained that TRiO is a federal program that serves students who are either first-generation, low-income and/or have a documented disability. Eligible students must also be enrolled in a transfer curriculum and have the potential to succeed, graduate and transfer to a four-year institution in pursuit of a Bachelor’s Degree.

She said an $880,000 U.S. Department of Education grant, along with in-kind contributions from Thomas Nelson, enabled the College to implement TRiO thus expanding Student Development by complementing existing offerings. Under the program, 160 eligible students per year can take advantage of mentoring, tutorial services, personal counseling, career exploration/planning and activities that aid transfer to four-year institutions, among other beneficial services at Thomas Nelson.

“Students have overwhelmingly responded to the program. We are currently serving the maximum capacity (160) allowed by the four-year grant but many more have been interested and placed on a waiting list,” said Keithley. She stressed that only those who meet the initial criteria are allowed to apply. Keithley reviews all applications to determine eligibility and interviews those who meet the criteria to accept or deny their participation.Faculty members also assist the program in recruiting students. Those teaching College Success Skills (SDV 100), Developmental Math (MTH 01) and College Composition I (ENG 111) classes receive TRiO referral sheets and can submit names to Keithley’s office after which the program contacts students to access their potential for participation. She said students’ concern over ineligibility is not unwarranted as they miss out on a great deal. TRiO participants who take full advantage of the program can gain a distinct edge when it comes to career exploration, academic planning and cultural enrichment. To date, participants have visited Howard University in Washington, D.C., attended an Etiquette Luncheon at Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel and toured the nation’s White House. The group is also scheduled to see renowned poet Maya Angelou at Chrysler Hall in April 2007. The program also awarded more than $7,000 in supplemental grant aid to participants with unmet financial needs; had participated in program activities at least two consecutive semesters; had a term 2.5 GPA; and submitted an essay on “What I Have Learned from the TRiO Program. Another $7,500 will be awarded at the end of the spring semester, said Keithley.

TRiO students have also undergone three important assessments within two weeks of being accepted into the program ? the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Learning Style Inventory and the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI). “These assessments are crucial in helping students understand their personality types in order to do intense career exploration; understand how they need to study according to their learning style; and discover what academic tools they need to acquire in order to study more efficiently,” noted Keithley.

After the assessments students complete a comprehensive academic plan working one-on-one with TRiO counselors. This ensures that students have the correct sequence and know exactly what classes to take each semester until graduation. “No other office on campus offers the combination of these services,” she said. Having been director of TRiO at Rappahannock Community College for 11 years before coming to Thomas Nelson, Keithley said she is pleased with the program’s progress at Thomas Nelson. The College’s President, Charles A. Taylor, endorsed its implementation and the students, faculty and staff have wholeheartedly participated.
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Release #07-0525

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