Rachel Ryan, Tracie Noyes and Alex Herzog discuss the closure.
There are real tears being shed at the USU-CEU Student Support Services offices. On Wednesday, just two days into fall semester, the nine-year-old program will cease to exist.
The college lost out in latest round of competition for scarce federal funding. As a result, the four members of the staff will be out of work unless they can land other jobs on campus. The bigger impact will be that 160 students, many of whom are the first members of their families ever to attend college, will have to look elsewhere in the system for individual counseling, guidance and academic help.
The students served by the program are people who are typically low-income, disabled, or are re-entering the educational system years or decades after they left high school. These non-traditional students (non-trads) may also have families of their own and hold full-time jobs in addition to the academic load they carry. What they all have in common is that higher education seems like foreign territory to them.
"I've cried a lot because we'll miss the closer one-on-one advising we've gotten," said Rachel Ryan, USU-CEU Student Body President who herself has relied on the program. She's a non-trad from Vermont who decided to advance her education seven years after high school graduation.
Program director Tracie Noyes said the timing of the rejection could not have been worse. "We got notice only three weeks before school was supposed to begin," she explained. That puts a lot of pressure on the college's academic advising staff, who will now have to handle the program's 160 students in addition to more than 1,000 traditional students who also need counseling.
"It's been blow after blow," declared Dean of Students Alex Herzog. First came the general hard times of recession and now a $250,000 direct hit to Student Support. It's not just the money, he stressed, but the loss of a whole team that has been working for years to recruit, retain and graduate students who otherwise might not have a chance.
"You can pay people to work, but you can't pay them to care," he stated, as a way of complimenting the departing staff.
Herzog, Noyes and Ryan all agreed that the program has given USU-CEU a competitive advantage in attracting and keeping students. Now the big challenge is to find a way to stay competitive - on short notice.
"The chancellor understands the situation," Herzog said, adding the Joe Peterson was personally involved minutes after the news arrived.
Ryan said student government is also going to get involved. "We're going to try to get volunteer tutors to help out," she said. That's not a traditional function of student government, commented Noyes, but then added that Ryan is a non-traditional student.
Individual tutoring is one of the services the program has provided, Noyes explained. Although the college will continue to offer tutoring for students, she said, the one-on-one approach has worked well over the years because students are able to schedule their sessions around work or family requirements.
Individual advice on what courses will be needed to graduate, and monitoring of progress through those requirements was another major service of the program.
Even simple stuff like printing was appreciated, Noyes explained. At a dime per page, printing or copying hundreds of pages is a hardship for a low-income student. (The printing was limited to academic-related material.)
So the premiere semester of USU-CEU has begun with a wholly unexpected challenge.
In the words of Rachel Ryan, "It is a huge transition in an already huge transition year."