SANFORD - Central Carolina Community College and the TRiO Student Support Services programs recently (Nov. 8) celebrated first-generation college students, faculty, and staff in an effort to raise awareness, generate pride, and connect students to resources. The celebration was a part of a national First-Generation College Celebration initiated by the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), in partnership with the Center for First-Generation Student Success of NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
The date of November 8th is significant as it is the anniversary of the Higher Education Act, first passed in 1965 during the presidential administration of Lyndon Johnson. The Higher Education Act was intended to strengthen the educational resources of colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in higher education, and was instrumental in the development of TRiO programs. In 1968, Student Support Services was authorized by the Higher Education Amendments and became the third in a series of educational opportunity programs later known the TRiO programs.
Central Carolina Community College's TRiO Student Support Services program is one of eight TRiO programs funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Education to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. CCCC's TRiO Student Support Services (SSS) programs were founded at the college in 2015 and provide participants with opportunities for academic development, assist students with basic college requirements, and motivate students toward the successful completion of their postsecondary education. The program also provides grant aid to current SSS participants who are receiving Federal Pell Grants.
The goal of SSS is to increase the college retention and graduation rates of its participants. Since 2015, the programs have served over 260 low-income and first-generation students and students with disabilities each year. Program services include academic tutoring, advice and assistance in postsecondary course selection, information on financial aid programs and scholarships, financial and economic literacy education, assistance applying for admission to bachelor's degree programs, individualized counseling, career counseling, cultural enrichment, and mentoring programs.
Student Support Services programs are designed to increase the college retention, graduation, and transfer graduation rates of participants; foster an institutional climate supportive of the success of students who are from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in postsecondary education, individuals with disabilities, or other disconnected students; and improve the financial and economic literacy of participants.
"Both of our SSS programs strive to be a one-stop shop for our students. Helping students using a holistic approach is one way we ensure our students' success is a priority," said Jessica Rogers-Dickens, Director of the TRiO Student Support Services programs at CCCC.
Allison Plumley, a first-generation graduate of Central Carolina Community College and alumna of the TRIO Student Support Services program, said that TRiO was instrumental to her success. A former cosmetologist who suffered a shoulder injury that left her unable to continue in her profession, she returned to school in the fall of 2015 seeking an Associate in Science degree. "One of my biggest challenges was learning how to use technology. All of the papers for my classes were supposed to be written in a specific format and I barely knew how to attach a file. I spent lots of time attending technology classes provided by SSS, utilizing the academic assistance lab, and communicating with my instructors about my struggles. So many people played a vital role in bringing me up to speed with my technology skills," said Plumley. "I am now in my second semester at North Carolina State University and I know without the guidance and encouragement of the staff at CCCC and TRiO I could not have been successful in my efforts."
Now a participant in N.C. State's TRiO McNair Scholars program, Plumley is preparing to enter a graduate program upon completing her bachelor's degree, and is participating in a paid research experience as a part of the program. "It never ceases to amaze me how far I have come from a student that could barely use a computer to analyzing data with computer software," she said.
Another first-generation SSS participant, Yushevia Brewington, said she felt overwhelmed upon returning to college at the age of 51 for a degree in Early Childhood Education. "I needed help with all the basic college requirements, choosing my courses, and easing the college transition," she said. "TRiO SSS has been my lifeline to education. The academic coaches assist me with financial aid, academic counseling, career options, setting goals, and workshops to enhance my skills. TRiO SSS has become my extended family through mentorship and by celebrating my accomplishments." On being the first in her family to attend college, Brewington said, "It has given me such a sense of pride."
The TRiO Student Support Services program also assists many students financially and connects them to resources in the community. Christole Maddox, a first-generation student in CCCC's Human Services Technology program, said, "A challenge that I have faced in college is being able to get to and from school because I do not drive. CCCC and SSS have made it easier on me by providing grants, scholarships, and supplemental grant aid so that I am able to safely get to and from school every day with public transportation and not have to worry so much about where the money for transportation is coming from."
Christole also realized when she started at CCCC that she had poor vision. "It was hard for me to read my text books, so I had to squint to read and had constant headaches. An SSS staff member did some research and found a program that would help me get my eyes checked and get glasses as well, which was a true blessing."
Christole noted that when she first started at CCCC, she did not have high expectations of completing college courses. "With the help of instructors and the encouragement by the TRiO SSS team, I feel very optimistic about my future and graduating," she said. "It makes me feel good about myself to see what I can accomplish."
Ashley Tittemore, Executive Director of College Access Programs at CCCC, said, "It was important for us to set aside this special day to celebrate our first-generation college students because we want them to know that they belong here, we believe in them, and there are others that are going through the same thing as they are."
In Fall 2018, 40 percent of CCCC students who completed the FAFSA identified as first-generation college students. Scott Byington, Dean of Arts, Sciences, and Advising at Central Carolina Community College, is working on an initiative at the college to provide customized advising to first-generation students.
"We continue to evolve our advising program to be more responsive to the needs of all of our students," said Byington. "First-generation students have unique strengths and challenges as they begin their studies at CCCC. As a result, we are intentionally developing new advising approaches and resources to best support them. We are always seeking ways to support our first-generation students and enable our advisors to make the student experience positive and rewarding."
Rogers-Dickens added: "Celebrating first-generation college students is a reminder to the first-generation graduates and current students that by obtaining a degree you are changing the path of your family. Ultimately, you are a game changer and deserve to be honored for your commitment to success."
For more information about the TRiO Student Support Services program at Central Carolina Community College, please visit www.cccc.edu/sss, call (919) 718-7567, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allison Plumley is a first-generation graduate of Central Carolina Community College and alumna of the TRIO Student Support Services program.
Yushevia Brewington is a first-generation student in Central Carolina Community College's Early Childhood Education program.
Christole Maddox is a first-generation student in Central Carolina Community College's Human Services Technology program.