Funds benefit low-income college students

Federal money will serve 760 students locally. (March 29, 2005 - By Jim Steinberg | From The Fresno Bee)

Fresno-area college and university students will benefit from continuing federal support announced Monday in Washington, and this pleases President Ned Doffoney of Fresno City College, who once received such help.

Doffoney reacted to word from the U.S. Department of Education that funding has been extended for the TRIO Student Support Services Program.

Doffoney was a recipient of these services in 1970 as he began college studies in Louisiana, a new pursuit in his family. He says the Fresno area and the region in general have many college-age students who can benefit as he did 35 years ago.

"This program has helped a lot of people for over 30 years," Doffoney said. "It is appropriate that we get the same level of help as the rest of the country. This area has been a historically under-served community."

Low-income students at Fresno State, Fresno City College and West Hills Community College are among hundreds who will benefit from the continued federal support.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, announced in Washington that funding by the Department of Education will serve 200 students at California State University, Fresno, 400 students in the West Hills Community College District and 160 students at Fresno City College. The university and two colleges are receiving $280,000, $285,000 and $235,000, respectively. The money continues the TRIO Student Support Services Program for four more years, beginning in 2006.

The TRIO programs across the country seek to attract and retain students until they complete college and university degrees. The support services include instruction in basic study skills, tutoring, counseling and special services for students with limited English.

"This is one of those grants that directly helps our students," said Robert Hernandez, executive director of federal programs at Fresno State.

Among program requirements, he said, students must represent the first generation in their families to attend college and come from low-income families. Sandra Fuentes, director of the student services program at Fresno State, said the new funding will represent a 3% increase from the present level for Fresno State’s program.

"As of now, we don’t see any cutbacks," Fuentes said.

But cuts are possible for other programs, including Upward Bound and Talent Search, serving high school students with similar economic or physical challenges.

The national TRIO program has placed increasing emphasis on individual programs’ accountability and required more auditing of their performance and spending, Fuentes said. Of 965 programs in the country, 75 suffered cuts.

Doffoney said Fresno-area educators have become more competitive in recent years in seeking and winning federal and other grants.

"We serve the kind of students who are eligible" for the TRIO money, Doffoney said.

The central San Joaquin Valley is home to a disproportionate number of students from families with low incomes and low expectations of studying beyond high school.

In Coalinga, Frances Squire, spokeswoman for West Hills Community College District, summed up the challenge for thousands of Valley students: "College is foreign to them."

Reversing that attitude has become a central goal of educators from Bakersfield to Stockton.

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