UAS program offers students intensive help

Grant to be spent on first-generation and low-income students

Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2005

The University of Alaska Southeast has received a $1.1 million federal grant to help willing students succeed in college.

The U.S. Department of Education student support services grant, to be spent over five years, is for students who are low-income, or who are in the first generation of their family to attend college, or who have disabilities.

The idea is to provide at least 160 committed students the courses they need to be prepared for college work, and to support them with tutoring and counseling.

The ultimate goal is for the students to do well in college and graduate, either from UAS or a school where they transfer, said Vicki Orazem, vice provost for student success.

UAS has advisers and tutors already, but it's up to students whether to use those services.

The university already has pre-college-level courses in math and English, but it hasn't required tutoring as part of them.

About 70 percent of UAS' incoming students need such courses, but half the students in them withdraw or fail, university officials said.

The new student support services program is voluntary, too, but the difference is that participants must commit to attending classes, assessing their needs, setting goals and receiving extra help.

The program also will ask faculty members to regularly monitor participating students' progress.

The grant bluntly refers to the program as "intensive and intrusive," because the university won't wait for participants to ask for help.

The program says to students, in effect, "we know these are the basic tenets of success in college and we are requiring you to do these," Orazem said.

For example, the grant will pay for upper-level students to work on math problems for 90 minutes a week with participating students in pre-college-level math courses.

Eventually, some of the program's practices could be put in place for all students, Orazem said.

For Orazem, who applied for the grant, the program has personal importance. She was a divorced mother returning to school after 10 years, and benefited from such a program at Montana State University.

She took special sections of math and writing courses and received tutoring from other students, who encouraged her. Now she holds a doctorate in education.

Her grant brought the program to Southeast Alaska for the first time in the federal program's 40-year history.

UAS is open-enrollment. It accepts all applicants, although it has some requirements for its degree programs.

About 70 percent of UAS students are in the first generation of their family to attend college. About 30 percent are from low-income families. About 75 percent are from small, isolated communities, university officials said.

"If you're going to let students in, ethically, I think, we have a responsibility to help them as best as we can," Orazem said.

The new program may help the college recruit students by letting applicants know that such services are available, said Kevin Myers, the UAS marketing director.

"That is where we lose a significant amount of our freshmen," he said. "They are underprepared when they get here. They don't have the coping skills. They don't have study habits."

• Eric Fry can be reached at

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