High Anxiety at Colleges Over Federal Funds

High anxiety is coursing through public colleges and universities these days. Federal funds for programs that serve first-generation college goers and minority students are on hold.

College counselors know it as the tipping point', that period between a student's first and second year, when drop out rates historically increase.

"When I entered college I was this shy little kid."

Corbin Sonneman will start his second year at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom next month. He credits the school's Student Support Services program with helping him stay in school.

"Gosh, they've pushed me so far, and convinced me to run in student elections, which I ended up winning."

Sonneman will take his seat on the student senate in the fall. His support advisers are helping him steer his way to the University of Washington, where he plans to study medicine.

Joelle Pretty manages the federal program, one of a few that are part of a group of programs called "TRiO," for Pierce College.

"Students that we work with typically have not grown up with any influence around them that has had a college experience, so they don't know how to navigate the college system."

Pretty says remedial college skills courses and one on one academic advisers make the program a success. But there's been no word from the Department of Education on renewed funding since last year. What remains runs out at the end of the month.

"It's been a very stressful summer for us."

Joelle Pretty and six of her colleagues may be out of a job in September. Around the state hundreds of workers could face layoffs. The federal program serves 14-thousand students in Washington.

A spokesman at the Department of Education declined a recorded interview. She did say she anticipates an announcement about Student Support Services funding next week, but couldn't elaborate on whether it will be good or bad news for supporters of the program.

U.S. Department of Education's Student Support Services information page