Program that helps Vt. college students faces cuts - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Program that helps Vt. college students faces cuts

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

Making it to a college campus is easier for some than others.

"Maybe in a standard middle class family you can go home, sit at your computer, you have everything you need right in front of you," said Page Decroti, who attends Vermont Technical College.

But for low-income or first generation college students like Tim Johnson, who shared his story at the Vt. Statehouse Thursday, it can take a lot of help.

"The TRiO program has impacted my life in more ways than I can count," Johnson said.

TRiO is a federally funded effort aimed at helping "underserved" populations chart their course from middle school through college.

"The most helpful thing I would say was getting advice with scholarships and how to go about the application process," Decroti said.

In Vermont, TRiO programs work with close to 12,000 students with tutoring and academic support.

"Just because you come from a low-income family or you have a learning disability, don't let that hang over your head, you can go anywhere you want to in life just as long as you pursue it," Johnson said.

But program advocates fear their efforts will take a major blow. Right now, TRiO works off a roughly $9 million budget in Vermont. It's slated to take a $458,000 or 5 percent cut by September as part of the sequestration.

"This is not an entitlement, this is not just a handout, this program actually brings back an investment to Vermont and to our economy," said Jennifer Jones, a TRiO employee.

Staff anticipates slashing budgets at its 14 projects housed at college campuses from Lyndon State to Castleton. They fear it will mean cutting off more than 600 students and their families from the information and services that often make college attainable.

"The college culture is very different than what many families are dealing with. They don't understand the importance of say taking college prep classes in high school, why is that important, why can't I just take general ed," Jones said.

Johnson has been involved with TRiO since high school and credits it for finding his way to Vermont Technical College.

"After I graduate I want to redesign state parks for people who are ADA accessible, I want to tutor folks who come from low-income families like I do," Johnson said.

Families who, like his, can one day share in college success.

"They can't wait to see me graduate in a month with my first associate's degree and then continue for my bachelor's," Johnson said.

A journey that's bound to be more challenging with fewer resources targeted toward helping others reach that goal.

TRiO's team recently met with members of Vermont's congressional delegation in Washington but did not come back with promises for any additional funding.

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