DePaul Celebrates TRIO and First-Generation Students' Success

The federally funded college access and success programs collectively known as TRIO celebrated their 50th anniversary this summer. Over the past 17 years, DePaul has successfully competed for and maintained two grant programs—Student Support Services and the McNair Scholars Program, housed in EMM’s Center for Access and Attainment—and together they have served more than 2,000 low-income and first-generation students. 

TRIO programs help students who enter DePaul with a weaker academic profile than the university average to persist, graduate and enter graduate school at rates that meet or exceed institutional averages. 

“Recognizing that affordability is a necessary but not sufficient condition for college access and success, TRIO was designed as the student programming complement to the federal Pell grant for low-income students,” says Brian Spittle, assistant vice president for the Center for Access and Attainment. While financial aid programs help students overcome financial barriers, TRIO programs help students overcome class, social and cultural barriers to higher education. 

TRIO and DePaul: Aligned in Mission to Serve First-Generation Students
“DePaul is distinctive among private, selective universities for its mission-based commitment to student access and outcomes and has always sought to express its mission through a commitment to educational opportunity, particularly for first-generation college students,” says Spittle. 

With this in mind, the TRIO programs fit well with the mission and have helped bring focus to DePaul’s mission-based commitments in enrollment. Many student services across the university now report serving first-generation students, but until EMM was awarded the first TRIO grant in 1997, there were no data collected on parental educational attainment and no means of assessing these students’ outcomes. TRIO introduced EMM’s data-centric orientation to this element of the DePaul mission which led to the systematic inclusion of first-generation status in DePaul’s research and data management efforts. TRIO also provided the operational definition (income levels set by the U.S. Department of Education) for low-income status at DePaul.  

TRIO Participants Thrive at DePaul
TRIO participants’ graduation rates and enrollment in graduate school exceed university averages.  McNair in particular—with a goal of preparing eligible participants for doctoral study and faculty careers—“has helped to draw institutional attention to the fact that a mission-based commitment to educational opportunity does not have to be defined in minimal terms,” Spittle remarks. 

Over 90 percent of McNair participants have presented at academic and professional conferences outside of DePaul, over 80 percent have enrolled in graduate school, and over 70 percent have studied abroad.

DePaul is a National Player in College Access and Success
DePaul has also been recognized nationally and participates regularly in conversations about college access through involvement with TRIO professional organizations and the Council for Opportunity in Education, the predominant national organization dedicated to expanding postsecondary opportunities for underserved students. In January 2014, DePaul president Fr. Dennis Holtschneider testified about the merit of TRIO programs on Capitol Hill, citing the success of Student Support Services and the McNair programs at DePaul. (Read his testimony here.)

DePaul’s Office of Research Services highlighted the 50th anniversary of TRIO on their website. For more information about the TRIO programs at DePaul, visit trioprograms.depaul.edu.