Silt resident credits Colorado Mountain College programs for job and career |

Silt resident credits Colorado Mountain College programs for job and career

Kristin Carlson
Colorado Mountain College
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.
Mike McKibbin/Citizen Telegram |

TRIO programs prove knowledge is power

On Jan. 26, 1964, just six weeks after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson delivered his famous “War on Poverty” State of the Union address.

By 1965, Congress had begun creating programs to help Americans overcome class and social barriers to higher education as an essential step to reducing poverty across the country. These services – geared toward low-income students and students from families in which no one had earned a college degree, also known as first-generation students – were called the Special Program for Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds.

Today known as the federal TRIO programs, they continue to help support student success locally and nationwide. Across Colorado Mountain College’s district, SSS and Upward Bound have injected approximately $10 million into the economies of Western Colorado, and students have received well over $100,000 in direct aid.

Famous TRIO alums include Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett, Franklin Chang Diaz (one of the first Hispanic astronauts), Bernard Harris (the first African-American astronaut) and John Quinones (correspondent for ABC News, “Prime Time Live”).

Upward Bound supports high school students as they prepare to enter college. The program provides opportunities for students to succeed in their pre-college performance and then when they go to college. Upward Bound serves high school students from low-income families and high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree. The goal is to increase the high school completion rate, and then help students graduate from a college or university.

In Colorado, 84 percent of students enrolled in Upward Bound graduate from high school and 87 percent of those who go on to college earn a degree, despite Upward Bound students being typically identified as at high risk of dropping out of high school.

According to the Council for Opportunity in Education, more than 40 years of data illustrates that students in Student Support Services programs are more than twice as likely to remain in college as non-participating students from similar backgrounds.

Since 1998, Colorado Mountain College has had a successful program at its residential campuses in Steamboat Springs, Leadville and Spring Valley (near Glenwood Springs). In 2010, the college received another grant to expand the program to commuter sites in Rifle and Edwards. The program provides support services like free tutoring, advising, transfer and career assistance to college students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

For the most recent reporting period, an average of 70 to 83 percent of students were retained, transferred or graduated, which is substantially higher than similar rates for not only students at higher risk, but for the student body as a whole.

Both programs are open to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet low-income and other program-specific guidelines. For information about who qualifies for either program, go online to and search for “qualify for SSS Upward Bound.”

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.

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.

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.

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