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George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Program that improves student retention at IU Bloomington receives $2.1 million in federal funding

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A program at Indiana University Bloomington that has improved college attendance rates among first-generation, low-income and physically challenged students has been awarded a new five-year, $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The grant will continue funding for the Groups Student Support Services Program, which helps students from under-represented populations make the transition from high school to college life and teaches them skills so they can succeed in the classroom. The program is a part of the Federal TRIO Program.

The program has helped these students, considered more likely to leave the university before completing their first year, to persist to their sophomore year at the same rate as all IUB students -- 80 percent. Groups participants have experienced a 20 percent increase in graduation rates over the last six years.

Each year, more than 600 Indiana high school graduates apply for admission to the program, which has grown in the last couple of years from about 200 to 300 participants.

Among those helped are students from Indiana's largest minority groups -- African Americans and Latinos as well as rural and immigrant populations -- who also are its most underserved at the state's higher education institutions.

"If not for programs like Groups, under-represented students' access to Indiana University would be sorely limited. All students, but especially first-generation college students, need mentoring and advising to navigate the unfamiliar and challenging university environment," said Frank Motley, IU associate vice chancellor for academic support. "Regretfully, the financial support available for low-income students is dwindling if not, for many of them, disappearing. This continued federal support for our program is so vitally important."

Groups was established in 1968 with funding from IU. In 1972, the Groups Program applied for and received its first Student Support Services TRIO grant from the Department of Education, resulting from the Higher Education Act of 1965. The IU program now has an alumni roster of close to 9,000. The Bloomington campus continues a strong commitment of additional resources and services to the program, including the use of facilities. The value of IU's commitment to the program over the next five years totals $1.7 million.

"The university's commitment to this program has enabled it to increase academic support and enhance learning skills of Groups Program students, so that they can meet the demands of a large research institution, as well as aid them in making the often difficult transition from secondary school to college," said Janice Wiggins, who has directed the program since 1996. "This strengthens students' abilities to make realistic academic, life and career plans."

About 300 students from across Indiana currently are enrolled in the program's full-scholarship, six-week residential summer experience. They earn six credit hours in mandatory math, English and critical thinking courses, which are integrated with comprehensive academic support services that reduce student attrition, Wiggins said.

During the school year, freshmen students meet regularly with advisers and peer mentors to ease their transition to the social and cultural setting of the university. Learning communities help those enrolled in disciplines which present the most difficulty. Workshops offer counseling and planning assistance on financial management.

The federal grant will help more under-represented students to reach the goal of graduation and more funding will go toward upper-class initiatives. "A high percentage of under-represented students leave the institution after their junior year primarily because of financial difficulty," Wiggins said. New activities will help keep them connected to the program, providing help when they are considering leaving IU. Other funds will go toward increased staffing, tutoring and financial aid.