Three historic educational bills passed by the Johnson administration, which created what are now known as the TRIO programs, are still opening doors for students locally and nationwide. Colorado Mountain College is helping students via TRIO programs at five of its campus locations. Our public information staff recently explored how these programs are changing the lives of students in each of these communities. The article below highlights how CMC’s TRIO program is improving lives of residents in Rifle.

This article was published in the Rifle Citizen Telegram. By Kristin Carlson.

Cheryl Strouse of Silt credits one of several student support programs offered through the federal TRIO program at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle with helping her land a job at the Rifle office of the Garfield County Housing Authority. Photo: Mike McKibbin.

Cheryl Strouse of Silt credits one of several student support programs offered through the federal TRIO program at CMC in Rifle with helping her land a job at the Rifle office of the Garfield County Housing Authority. Photo: Mike McKibbin.

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson announced his War on Poverty, at least one front has demonstrated clear victories in improving economic success: higher education.

According to a Pew Research Center study released in February, college-educated workers are less likely to be unemployed and can expect to earn significantly more each year than their peers with high school diplomas alone. As this income gap grows, more than doubling since the passage of Johnson’s anti-poverty bill, higher education has become a critical weapon in the fight for economic opportunity.

Thanks to an Upward Bound grant, Colorado Mountain College in Rifle has helped disadvantaged high school students finish school and succeed in college since 2012. And because of Student Support Services grants, since 2010 the campus has been able to extend the dream of equal opportunity in education to students who are attending college.

The Student Support Services program is designed to keep college students in school, on track and moving toward the goal of a degree, despite challenging circumstances. Qualified students receive academic counseling, career guidance, college and university transfer assistance, financial aid and scholarship resources and referral services.

At CMC, the program has surpassed federal goals for helping students remain in college, stay in good academic standing and graduate or transfer to a four-year college or university.

Nate Adams, director of the program at CMC in Rifle, said he is particularly proud of the flexibility of the college’s new 24/7 online tutoring program and the access it affords working students and those with young children at home.

“College is often difficult for all the wrong reasons, particularly for commuting adults,” said Adams. “To succeed, they must sacrifice the very things they are striving for: money, time and peace of mind.”

Extra support helped Silt resident

As a graduating high school senior, Cheryl Strouse had no plans to attend college. Her parents had not pursued degrees, and she had worked her way into an entry-level accounting job.

Although Strouse’s skill set was solid, she soon realized her future would be limited by what she didn’t know. And the Silt resident wanted to address the gap.

“I thought I’d take one class and learn everything I needed to know about accounting,” she laughed.

But that one class made Strouse hungry to learn. She took a second, and a third, then more as her job allowed.

After losing her job in the economic downturn, Strouse decided to make college a full-time priority. She had completed significant coursework, but her pursuit of a degree had begun to hit a few snags.

“I was struggling, really struggling, with my computer classes,” Strouse said.

Thanks to the suggestion of her CMC math instructor, Tracy White, Strouse was tested for and diagnosed with an underlying learning disability.

Enter Student Support Services. With guidance from tutors and mentors, Strouse was able to climb over her educational hurdles and earn an Associate of Arts degree in business in 2012. It took 13 years of hard work, but she did it – with a 4.0 GPA.

“I truly do not believe I could have accomplished the things I’ve been able to accomplish at any other college,” Strouse said.

Hired as an executive assistant and bookkeeper at the Rifle office of the Garfield County Housing Authority in 2011, Strouse said a key reason she landed the job was her college work.

“I had some accounting experience and was getting my associates degree at the time,” Strouse said.

She is on track to complete the coursework for a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration this summer. In her off hours, Strouse serves as a math tutor for the program and students with disabilities.

“Any time I can give back, I feel that’s my responsibility,” Strouse said.