Fulfilling Private Dreams, Serving Public Priorities: An Analysis of TRIO Students' Success at Independent Colleges and Universities

Article excerpt

As the nation prepares to welcome and introduce an increasingly more diverse student population to higher education, many challenges must be addressed to ensure these young people's success -and consequently the future of our nation. A good number of these prospective collegebound students will be counted among TRIO's traditional target group. This article examines the role of private colleges and universities in contributing to the success of the TRIO target student population. The analysis focuses on how TRIO participation at private institutions affects student success in enrollment and persistence to baccalaureate degree attainment.

INTRODUCTION

The education of minority and low-income youth will be a key dimension of the nation's economic and social future. The size and face of America's youth population is changing rapidly. As a result, access to higher education for minority and low-income students is gaining even more importance and producing new challenges. Demographic studies show that by 2010, four states-California, Florida, New York, and Texas-will contain fully one-third of the nation's youth population. Perhaps even more significantly, all four of these states will have "minority" youth populations of more than 50%. Three additional states will have minority youth populations of more than 40% (Hodgkinson, 1993). Nationwide, nearly 35% of the youth population will be members of minority groups in 2010 (Bureau of the Census, 1995).

As the nation prepares to welcome and introduce these students to higher education, many challenges must be addressed to ensure these young people's future and successand consequently the future of our nation. A college education is more important than ever, yet many of these students will come to our institutions of higher learning from low-income households with limited exposure to postsecondary education. Many of them will be the first members of their families to attend college. Various policymakers and authors have detailed the unique barriers to success facing these first-generation-college and low-income students (Gladieux, 1996). How can we best prepare them for the challenges and opportunities ahead? What types of outreach and institutional support will best equip them to access and achieve at our nation's colleges and universities?

The 1,600 independent (or private) colleges and universities in the United States play an important role in serving students from widely diverse backgrounds. Private institutions enroll 2.3 million undergraduates, including approximately 500,000 students from families earning less than $25,000, nearly 650,000 minority students, and more than 500,000 students who are the first in their families to attend postsecondary education. These institutions include traditional liberal arts colleges, major research universities, churchand faith-related institutions, historically Black colleges and universities, women's colleges, and schools of law, medicine, business and other professions. Enrolling but 21% of all students in the U.S., independent colleges and universities award 31% of all degrees, 26% of all undergraduate degrees, 43% of all graduate degrees, and 61% of all first professional degrees in fields such as law, medicine, engineering, and business (National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, 1998). They offer students from diverse backgrounds access to higher education and a choice in the type of educational experience that will uniquely meet their individual interests, needs, and aspirations. They also offer a learning environment that has been proven successful, year after year.

The nation's TRIO programs were established by the federal government in 1965 to ensure equal educational opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race, ethnic background, or economic circumstances. As mandated by Congress, two-thirds of TRIO participants are low-income, first-generation-college students-specifically, students from families with incomes under $24,000 and in which neither parent attended college. …