- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - A program at the University of Kentucky is using a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help first-generation and low-income students navigate college.

The Lexington Herald-Leader (http://bit.ly/1IxOfdy) reports Student Support Services is part of the university’s Office of Institutional Diversity and that its main goal is to improve graduation and retention rates among students at the highest risk of dropping out.

It offers a broad umbrella of services, including tutoring, as well as workshops in study skills, and personal and career mentoring.

Since its creation in 1993, SSS has served 1,500 students with a graduation rate of 45 percent to 58 percent in the past five years. About 20 percent of that total went on to professional or graduate schools.

According to the Department of Education, the national graduation rate for this population is 25 percent to 30 percent.

Besides first-generation and low-income students, the program also helps disabled students cope with everything from financial aid to tutoring.

“I think the reason why we’re successful is because we try to do a one-stop shop,” said director Lydia Wims. “We have the ability to focus in on their financial aid. If their aid is stuck in verification, we help them facilitate. We have tutoring in-house, we counsel and help them.”

First-generation students make up about 30 percent of UK’s student body.

Gloria Maldonado, a senior at the University of Kentucky, is the first person in her family to go to college. She received help from Student Support Services and now manages its tutoring program.

“Everything about college was new to me,” said the 21-year-old mother of a 5-year-old. “It’s things like understanding what a book voucher is or how to talk to a professor.”

Wims said one of the major problems she sees is a general lack of preparedness for college work.

Hayley Washington agrees. A UK freshman, she graduated from high school without having written anything longer than a two-page paper.

She said her first college assignment for a 10-page paper “was stressful.”

But with the help of her SSS tutor, Washington said she got the extra help she needed.

“Whenever I need help revising a paper, they’ll look at it,” she said. “I can go there and do homework, and they helped me plan my schedule for next semester.”

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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

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