Federal Grant Funds Creation of Student Support Program at Fisher

August 27, 2020

St. John Fisher College received a $1.3 million grant from the Federal TRIO (TRIO) Student Support Services program (SSS) to fund the creation of a new student support program for first generation students at the College.

A student walks out of the Campus Center.

TRIO programs are designed to provide services and assistance to low-income, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities as they progress through the academic pipeline. This is the first time Fisher has received TRIO SSS funding from the U.S. Department of Education. The College was awarded $261,888 each year for five years ($1,309,440 total), effectively funding 100 percent of the program. The grant was secured in a collaboration between the College’s Center for Career and Academic Planning, Office of Sponsored Programs, and the Provost’s Office.

Two dedicated staff members will work with students to develop individualized success plans, articulating their academic, personal development, career, and financial goals. Students will receive support and guidance as they work through any academic or personal challenges they may face as they pursue their degree. Fisher’s program will serve roughly 140 first generation students each year.

 “Our approach uses the HOPE-based Action Theory, which is all about goal-setting as well as helping students be self-motivated, and fosters optimism for their short- and long-term goals. Then we work as a team to make those goals happen,” said Dr. Michelle Erklenz-Watts, director of academic student support.

Erklenz-Watts said Fisher’s program is a three-pronged approach, looking at student retention, college completion, and career and graduate school preparation.

Throughout their time in the TRIO program, students will participate in a “Network Seminar,” a credit-bearing course that will deliver career-readiness curriculum, financial literacy training, academic course selection and planning, and graduate or professional school preparation. Peer mentors, writing and quantitative specialists, and other internal and external experts will facilitate participants’ academic, personal, and financial development. The Seminar will also feature representatives from the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and others to present educational pathways to in-demand careers, and help students hone career readiness competencies that employers seek in their new hires.

The program will also include a robust financial literacy component, thanks to a partnership with Junior Achievement (JA) of Central Upstate New York. Students will engage in financial literacy modules that include material from finance faculty members at Fisher; CashCourse online platform; and a financial literacy simulation used nationwide by JA. 

The retention rate for first-time, full-time students enrolling at Fisher in fall 2017 was 86.6 percent; compared to 81 percent nationally (according to “The Condition of Education 2020” report). And, that figure stands true for first generation students enrolled in one of the College’s support programs, including the Higher Education Opportunity Program or the First Generation or Service Scholarships. But, for those not enrolled in one of those programs, the retention rate is 10 percent lower. Erklenz-Watts hopes to harness the proven success of students supported through programs designed to close a gap that exists in the retention rate of first generation students who receive additional support and those who currently do not.

“Every student who comes to Fisher is someone who believed they were going to come to college and finish college. For some reason, that 10 or 20 percent felt something or experienced something that made them change their minds about how they were going to be successful,” she explained. “We want to know them, what is on their minds, and what is in their hearts, so we can help them realize the dream they had from day one. With the TRIO program, we can bring even more students into support nets we know can lead to their success.”

The contents of this press release were developed under a grant from the Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.