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Earlier this spring, Enews ran a short series of articles profiling students who have benefited from TRIO’s Upward Bound and Student Support Services programs at different Colorado Mountain College locations. This profile features grad Edgar Montes, the first person in his immediate family earn a college degree.

Roaring Fork Valley CMC students still benefit from War on Poverty education bill

[GLENWOOD SPRINGS] – Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson announced his War on Poverty, at least one front has demonstrated clear victories in improving economic success. And that front is 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.

Fortunately, 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. At five of its campuses, Colorado Mountain College is helping students via either TRIO’s Student Support Services or Upward Bound programs.

Thanks to a Student Support Services grant, Colorado Mountain College’s campus with locations in Spring Valley, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale has been able to extend the dream of equal opportunity in education to disadvantaged students since 1998.

Student Support Services helps first-generation, low-income students excel

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. Qualifying students receive academic counseling, career guidance, college and university transfer assistance, financial aid and scholarship resources, and referral services.

At Colorado Mountain College, the Student Support Services program, or SSS, 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.

Like many students who come through the doors at the CMC Success Center in Glenwood Springs, Edgar Montes would be the first person in his immediate family to complete a college education.

Montes’s parents were supportive, but he wanted to shoulder the financial responsibility for his own education himself. He applied for and secured several scholarships that helped him commit to earning a degree.

“It’s the first college degree to come out of both sides of my family,” he said. “It feels really good to have a degree and make it through.”

As a freshman entering CMC, Montes was referred to Student Support Services. “I had a hard time with my math classes, especially going in,” he said. Initial testing revealed some gaps in his understanding of mathematical concepts, so he had to work hard to make up ground.

And that’s exactly what he did, with a little help from Kearstin Cameron with Student Support Services. “After having tutoring the first year, it set me up for what to expect,” Montes said. “It also helped me settle in and not be so nervous.”

Working with Cameron and learning from other students in the SSS program helped to expand Montes’s ideas of the possible. He discovered that there is no such thing as a stupid question, and he began to engage more in his classes. “I became a better scholar,” he said. “If you can’t support your argument and see the other side of issues, your argument has no strength.”

A hand up, not a hand out, helps students reach, exceed their goals

Montes earned his associate degree in entrepreneurship in 2013 and has since launched his own landscaping business – Montes Services. Ultimately, he hopes to return to college and earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting or business.

“I’ve always been interested in ethics and philosophy, too,” he said. “It’s good to see how other people think.”

Earning an associate degree has made a difference, not just in Montes’s educational options, but in his life. “It built up my character and made me confident in what I do, and helped me improve my relationships with the people I work for and with,” he said.

As President Johnson envisioned all those years ago, giving promising students a hand up delivers far-reaching benefits – not just to the potential college graduates, but to the communities they enrich.

To learn more about Student Support Services at CMC in the Roaring Fork Valley, contact coordinator Cameron at kcameron@coloradomtn.edu.