TRIO programs boost success for thousands of students system‑wide

TRIO student Reem Osman and Chemistry Professor Nelmi Devarie Baez posed during a 1st Gen Celebration at WSU Tri-Cities.
TRIO student Reem Osman and Chemistry Professor Nelmi Devarie Baez posed during a 1st Gen Celebration at WSU Tri-Cities.

At Fort Vancouver High School in Vancouver, Washington just 35% of 2019 graduates enrolled in post-secondary education within a year after graduation. The number was better at nearby Hudson’s Bay High School, but still less than half of students there ventured on to college that year, according to the 2020 School Performance Scorecard.

WSU Vancouver’s Talent Search programs are looking to change that.

WSU Vancouver established TRIO Talent Search programs at Fort Vancouver and Hudson’s Bay High Schools in 2021. The programs seek to educate students about the benefits of going to college, help them become academically and financially prepared, and guide them through the transition process after graduation.

The programs’ access coaches currently work with over 870 students at the schools.

“Having our staff in these schools every day talking to students about going to college is starting to make a difference in their success,” said Felix Braffith, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and equitable learning at WSU Vancouver. “We are working hard to build a culture, a college-going mindset with these students.”

One early indicator of the programs’ impact is the number of its participants taking college-track courses: 90% of Talent Search students take these courses, compared with 40% for all students in these schools.

Empowering students to achieve

TRIO programs like Talent Search help students see their potential and empower them to achieve their educational and career dreams. The programs play a critical role in recruiting and retaining students who may otherwise slip through the cracks in the complex world of higher education.

WSU has 17 TRIO programs across four campuses that serve a combined 2,795 students. Nationally, TRIO refers to a set of federal outreach and student services programs designed to assist low-income students, first-generation students, veterans, and students with disabilities. Some TRIO programs focus on students studying specific fields, such as STEM and education, while others, like Talent Search, serve high school students. Regardless of the focus, they all help students progress through the academic pipeline.

As WSU prepares to celebrate National TRIO Day Feb. 20–22, Lucila Loera-Herrera, executive director for the Office for Access & Opportunity in Student Affairs, which manages many of WSU’s TRIO programs, said it is important to recognize the university’s system-wide success in building one of the nation’s largest offerings of TRIO programs.

“As someone who was here when WSU first explored TRIO, to see how far we’ve come is a great point of pride for me,” Loera said.

WSU welcomed its first TRIO program in 1999, when the McNair Scholars program began on the Pullman campus. Since then, SSS (on the WSU Pullman and WSU Tri-Cities campuses), Upward Bound (WSU Pullman, WSU Spokane, WSU Tri-Cities), and Talent Search (WSU Spokane, WSU Vancouver) have been added to the mix.

Loera-Herrera hopes to expand WSU’s long and successful track record with TRIO programs in the fall by applying for two new SSS programs: one that would serve students with disabilities and one for English as a Second Language (ESL) students on the WSU Pullman campus.

Each TRIO program is unique in the students it supports. Programs like Talent Search focus on getting students to college; programs like SSS help them get started on the right foot. WSU Tri-Cities hosts two SSS programs that conduct personal and academic advising, help students create a success plan, navigate financial aid and scholarships, and explore career options with 260 students each year.

Elly Sweet, interim TRIO director at WSU Tri-Cities, said she particularly enjoys connecting faculty with her students by inviting them to conferences, encouraging them to conduct special study sessions, and arranging informal coffee hours where students can get to know faculty outside the classroom.

“TRIO programs are built around intentional activities like these that help our students be successful in their college career, and that intentionality has shown to be very effective for the students we serve,” Sweet said.

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