Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Components of TRIO's Success: How One Student Support Services Program Achieved Success

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Components of TRIO's Success: How One Student Support Services Program Achieved Success

Article excerpt

This article contends that TRIO's national acclaim says little about why individual TRIO programs have proven so effective. To identify the particular characteristics that have resulted in these programs' success with their target populations, the unique experiences of a university-based Special Student Services (SSS) TRIO program were examined from the perspectives of program staff. Staff held that their program was effective because it was responsive, synergistic, supportive, and successful. This investigation explores these four attributes as causative factors leading to the program's status as one of the most popular and most highly utilized student service programs on campus.

Most people who are familiar with TRIO have some idea why its programs are successful at the national level. If asked, they might indicate that every national study conducted by the federal government has found the programs effective and claims that they are meeting their goals and serving the populations they are funded to serve. They might also mention that for more than 30 years, the 1,200-plus TRIO programs have been well represented on Capitol Hill by the Council for Opportunity in Education (formerly the National Council of Educational Opportunity Associations, or NCEOA). Others might suggest that TRIO is successful because it has avoided the mounting controversies over race-based measures and affirmative action by early adopting eligibility criteria based on socioeconomic factors rather than race or ethnicity. Still others might attribute TRIO's success, even during difficult economic times, to the bipartisan support it enjoys in Congress.

No matter which factors are selected to explain TRIO's widespread success, and regardless of the weight given one over the other, these findings say little about the success achieved by individual TRIO programs at the local level. Due to the wide variety among TRIO programs and the fact that each represents a unique contract between the U.S. Department of Education and a university, college, or community organization, entirely different factors come into play to explain the success of specific programs. What are these factors, and how are they manifested to define success at each TRIO site?

These are the questions that I posed to the staff of the EXCEL program at my home institution, California State University-Hayward (CSUH). EXCEL is one of TRIO's Student Support Services, or SSS, initiatives. Certainly, we at EXCEL have always been concerned about our students' success. Each year, our staff devotes considerable time and effort to determining its success in meeting program goals and objectives. At year's end, however, we must determine whether we succeeded or not. This involves a very different set of questions than asking what three or four program factors or characteristics in particular make the program successful.

This latter question was recently put to EXCEL program staff members during individual interviews and during a group discussion at one of our biweekly staff meetings. Their comments were distilled down to four qualities, which asserted that the program was effective because it was responsive, synergistic, supportive, and successful. Generally, it was determined that staff view these qualities as causative factors leading to EXCEL's status as one of the most popular and most highly utilized student service programs on the CSUH campus. The remainder of this article describes in detail how each of these qualities contributes to the programs success.

QUALITIES OF THE EXCEL SSS PROGRAM

The SSS as a Responsive Program

One reason for EXCEL's success is its responsiveness to students' changing needs. For example, in the 1970s, the program went by the name "Special Services for Disadvantaged Students." Students of that era were very different from those entering college in the 1980s and later. They had few qualms about participating in a program designated as providing "special" services for "disadvantaged" students. …

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