SMC Awarded $1.1 Million From U.S. Department of Education for First-Generation, Low-Income Student Success Initiative

U.S. Dept of Education logoSaint Mary’s has received a $1.1 million award from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to support the High Potential Sphere of Success (HPSS). The new Saint Mary’s initiative will enhance academic support services for low-income and first-generation students at the College. The five-year grant is funded through the DOE’s TRIO Student Support Services Program, which supports higher education efforts that motivate and prepare underrepresented students on college campuses for academic success and graduation.

Saint Mary’s Provost Beth Dobkin said she was proud of the award and that it recognizes the College’s proven ability to foster student success. “The U.S. Department of Education funding for the new HPSS program is significant. The High Potential Sphere of Success expands on the history of the College’s more than 40-year-old High Potential Program and Saint Mary’s academic success in the retention and graduation of first-generation and low-income students.”

HPSS is structured to help low-income and first-generation students build on their personal assets and strengths and use them to succeed academically. The initiative focuses on resilience and sustainability, psychosocial development and engagement, academic resources and technology, leadership development, research and scholarship, and career/graduate school exploration.

Assistant Vice Provost for Student Success Tracy Pascua Dea, who co-directs the High Potential Program (HP) and co-designed the HPSS program, said it effectively scaffolds a student’s success throughout their academic career. “It’s unlike a single year introductory cohort model,” said Pascua Dea. “It’s a comprehensive approach that involves high impact practices, such as mentoring, connecting students with faculty and making sure they are engaged with the College and taking on leadership roles across campus. All of that fosters academic excellence and a recognition that they belong on this campus.”

Transitioning to college is challenging for all students, but can be especially daunting for low-income and first-generation students, said Education Assistant Professor Gloria Aquino Sosa, who also co-designed the HPSS program. “The experiences of low-income and first-generation students are often radically different from their peers, such that no one in their home may have ‘college knowledge,’ so to speak,” she said.

Sosa, who also co-directs HP and teaches in the Counseling Department in Saint Mary’s Kalmanovitz School of Education, added that HPSS employs the resiliency and determination the students already possess when they arrive on campus. “The program meets low-income and first-generation-to-college students where they are and builds on their own strengths with academic direction and individualized support. And, that, as demonstrated in higher education research, leads to graduation.”

The grant from the DOE will provide $1,099,985 in Federal funds to support HPSS participants; this represents 35% of the total program costs for HPSS. The remaining 65% of program costs, or $2,030,340, will be financed by the College.

The Student Support Service Program grant is one of eight programs administered by the Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO) office. The outreach and student services programs are intended to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. They target and serve low-income, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities. Their goal is to foster individual progress through the academic pipeline, from middle school to post-baccalaureate programs.


Michael McAlpin
Director of Media Relations
(925) 631-4222 office (925) 878-9535 cell

About SMC
The Saint Mary's College of California experience inspires learning that lasts a lifetime. For more than 150 years, the College has provided students with a rigorous education that engages their intellect and spirit, and awakens a desire to transform society. Guided by the Christian Brothers, the Catholic Church's oldest order dedicated exclusively to teaching, the College enrolls more than 4,200 students in undergraduate and graduate liberal arts and business programs. For more information visit Saint Mary's College at and just 23 miles east of San Francisco.