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Hearing Highlights Ways Colleges, Universities are Working to Expand Access to Low-Income Students

The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), today held a hearing entitled, “Keeping College Within Reach: Sharing Best Practices for Serving Low-Income and First Generation Students.” During the hearing, members learned about institutional efforts to better serve disadvantaged students, while also exploring opportunities to strengthen related federal programs and initiatives.

In her opening remarks, Rep. Foxx said, “One of this committee’s top priorities for the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is improving postsecondary access and affordability. To achieve that goal, we must take steps to close the education achievement gap and increase postsecondary opportunity for low-income and first generation students.”

Rep. Foxx noted the challenges disadvantaged students have when applying for and completing a postsecondary education, and described the range of federal preparation and retention programs geared toward helping these students realize the dream of a college degree.

“Taxpayers dedicate nearly $1 billion each year to support the TRIO and GEAR UP programs. But despite the expenditure of significant federal resources in these important initiatives, more must be done at the state and institutional level to prepare disadvantaged students effectively for college and the workforce,”  Rep. Foxx said. “Fortunately, postsecondary institutions are already rising to the challenge.”

Father Dennis Holtschneider, President of DePaul University in Chicago, explained how his institution’s TRIO programs – Student Support Services and McNair Scholars – are improving the success of their low-income students. “Our latest graduation rate for Student Support Services students was over 80 percent, ten percentage points above the institutional average. Eighty percent of our McNair students are going on to graduate school within three years.”

DePaul is also taking additional steps to ensure low-income students are better prepared for college success. “We recently shifted our remedial coursework to the summer before college and made it free-of-charge so that students could make the most of their financial aid eligibility and better stay on track to degree,” Father Holtschneider stated. ”We completely redesigned gateway courses – those courses like organic chemistry or calculus where students often drop out of college if they fail the course.”

Dr. James Anderson, Chancellor of Fayetteville State University, told the committee about a program his institution has implemented to help low-income students understand the costs of college with financial support services. “FIRST STEPS is a program that helps prospective first-time students and their families take the first steps toward success at FSU, to include placement testing, advisement, registration, and financial aid counseling.”

Even after enrolling, FSU students continue to receive financial counseling services. “FSU’s School of Business & Economics developed a core course called Financial Literacy…designed to provide students with some of the skills and knowledge that they need to manage their finances and be informed consumers by examining basic financial terms and concepts,” Dr. Anderson added.

At the College of Westchester, hands-on mentoring and student tracking programs are providing low-income students with valuable support services. “[College of Westchester’s] Success Coaching Program assigns each student with a Success Coach and tracks the students’ coursework, strengths, stressors and professional growth opportunities by utilizing CW’s Campus Toolkit,” said Mary Del Balzo, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at the College of Westchester.

“Faculty and college staff constantly evaluate students to identify those at risk…Students are identified and directed to the Learning Center for tutoring needs and counselors are engaged and available to properly advise students and help them meet challenges outside the classroom,” Mrs. Del Balzo explained.

“We want all Americans to have the opportunity to earn a postsecondary credential,” Rep. Foxx concluded. “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle as we begin work on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.”

To learn more about today’s hearing, or to watch an archived webcast, visit


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