Unique program helps local low-income students succeed

Enrollment for classes is up 40 percent in the Learner Support and Transition division at Western Technical College and it’s due in part to a unique program that’s helping low-income students succeed.

We look at how poverty informed practice is making a difference one student at a time.

Western noticed that many of itslow-income students were dropping out, not because of academics but because of issues related to money, food and a lack of support from the college.

So the college decided to do something about it.

Chad Dull, the dean of the Learner Support & Transition Division at Western Technical College, said, “People would be stunned by the number of students on our campus that are homeless.”

Western Technical College said most of its students are struggling financially.

“Every barrier that we can remove, we try to remove,” Dull said.

As part of its new poverty informed practice program, the school is offering students free food and giving them college credit for prior work experience.

“We want to take someone who’s had what they think of as a blue-collar or entry-level job and we can talk to them about, well, you understand, customer service,” Dull said.

Students said it’s not only making a difference, it’s completely life-changing.

Andrea Vassey a student studying human services, said she’s a completely different person thanks to the program.

“They’ve helped me so much, with self-confidence and just having support,” Vassey said.

Vassey met representatives from the college at one of the lowest points in her life.

“Western met me while I was in jail. I used to use meth and I wrote a lot of bad checks and hurt a lot of people,” Vassey said.

Vassey was a high school dropout who had no intention of ever going back to school.

“They just kept telling me I could do it. So I just started studying,” Vassey said.

She received her high school diploma through Western and enrolled for college when she got out of jail.

“When I came back here, I was homeless and I didn’t really know what to do,” Vassey said.

She started taking classes while living in a homeless shelter, hoping one day to help other women transition out of jail.

“So people know they’re not defined by their past, (that) no matter what they’ve done, they can have a better future,” Vassey said.

Western said that’s the whole purpose of the program-

:It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you can do.

“Historically, pre-college programs would’ve maybe talked about the things in your life that hadn’t worked out. We look forward,” Dull said.

Vassey is expecting to graduate next year.

She’s hoping to work either as a social worker or a probation officer.

Western Technical College said one of the key statistics it looks at is the number of students who take pre-college classes and then enroll in college classes.

That number has doubled since the Poverty Informed Practice program started last year.

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