Diane Schorr and Eric Suder toured WSU
TRiO Program offices

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University is vying for funding that would establish a First Scholars Program on the Pullman campus. The program specializes in providing support for first generation college students.
 
The Suder Foundation established the First Scholars Program in 2008 as a way to dramatically increase the graduation rate of first generation college students – those whose parents have no education beyond high school. This is accomplished by providing students with individualized academic and social support, personal development opportunities and financial assistance.

 

According to the program website, only 36 percent of first generation students complete a bachelor�s degree within six years of enrollment, compared with 43 percent of their peers whose parents had some college and 60 percent of their peers whose parents have college degrees.

�Many first generation students lack roles models who can help teach them the keys to academic success,� said John Fraire, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment.  �But with the right knowledge and support, these students can be as successful in college as everyone else.�
 
It is this same belief that led Eric Suder to create the Suder Foundation and the First Scholars Program. Suder is founder and chief executive of Estech Systems, Inc., a Texas firm that specializes in manufacturing phone systems for businesses. Along with Diane Schorr, executive director of the foundation, Suder spent two days in Pullman last week to get a better feel for the campus and community.
 
WSU Development Director Ris� McGill said the planning team that submitted the grant proposal believes WSU is an ideal location for the First Scholars Program.

�As a land grant institution, supporting first generation and low income students is already a big part of our culture,� she said. �Programs and services are already in place that clearly demonstrate our commitment to serving these students.�

�This program would allow us to provide a more transformative, affordable and accessible education that will impact students for generations to come,� said Luci Loera, assistant vice president for Enrollment Management.

The Suder Foundation funds First Scholars Programs at the University of Utah, University of Alabama, University of Kentucky and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. This year it aims to support three additional universities. WSU is one of four finalists.

�I think the fact that we would be the only school in the Pacific Northwest to have the First Scholars Program bodes well for us, as I know Eric would like to see this program expand to all corners of our country,� McGill said.

Consistent with what other universities are receiving, WSU is seeking $860,000 over five years to establish the program. The amount includes $60,000 in start-up funds. If WSU is successful in securing the grant, it will use the first year to establish an office on campus, hire a mentor for students and develop a comprehensive array of support services.

The plan calls for the first cohort of 20 students to arrive on campus in fall 2012 – with new cohorts of 20 students arriving each year until the maximum of 80 students is reached. The funding will provide each student with $5,000 a year for four years.
 
Leading this effort for WSU are representatives from Student Affairs and Enrollment, Institutional Research, University College and the WSU Foundation.

McGill anticipates a decision on the grant to be announced within a couple of weeks.