USM launches programs to expand college access

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - President Barack Obama called on colleges and universities to improve access to low-income students. At an education summit Thursday, more than 100-college presidents and 40-organizations announced their commitment to help more young people get to college and graduate. USM leaders say they are already taking those steps to help students achieve their dreams.

A work-study job at USM Gulf Park helps Elizabeth Parrotta pay for college. The USM senior is pursuing a paralegal degree.

"Since I'm really not classified as low-income personnel, even though I don't currently work full time, I didn't qualify for any federal aid," said Parrotta. "Getting into the university and being accepted into this university was a very easy process. Finding the money to attend was what was difficult."

Removing financial barriers and taking steps to prepare low-income students for college are part of President Obama's education agenda.

"He hits the nail on the head in terms of what needs to be done in American higher education. We've been doing all of this, but we've got to do even more and more and more. All the types of things he's proposing are dead on," said USM Gulf Coast V.P. Dr. Frances Lucas.

Among Mr. Obama's proposals, connecting low-income students to the college that's right for them, and offering them guidance and ACT and SAT preparation courses.

"We're going into the high schools, but we also had a new program this year to bring high school counselors in for a day. And the purpose of that was to talk about how we can support them," said Lucas.

USM Gulf Park is also exploring a dual-enrollment partnership.

"So we're working with some high schools to talk about what course we might offer that would keep the high school students excited and give them a taste of what the college curriculum is about. That hopefully would encourage them to select a college upon graduation," said Lucas.

USM leaders say these steps help support the president's vision for higher education.

"If we were to convert a lot of the money we're spending on prisons into educating students and to get them out of the poverty level, give them skills and things they can do to support themselves, then we're going to have a much safer and healthier society. So I think he's right on track," said Lucas.

USM Gulf Park will also host its first "Showcase" on February 13th. High school and transfer students can tour the campus and talk to the faculty about the courses and career options available.

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