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Local universities receive funding for student programs

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Two north country universities have received almost $450,000 in federal funds for programs that encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend graduate school, despite Department of Education cuts to the program.

St. Lawrence University, Canton, and Clarkson University, Potsdam, both host the federal Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, an initiative designed to increase the attainment of doctoral degrees by first-time college students, low-income individuals and members of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

St. Lawrence University’s program received $226,795, while Clarkson’s received $220,000.

“I can just say with confidence that the amount is what we asked for, and it is wonderful that we got the support of our member of congress, Bill Owens, and the two senatorial offices, too,” St. Lawrence President William L. Fox said.

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrats of New York, wrote letters of support for the programs to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The program sponsors summer research experiences for undergraduate students where they work closely with professors.

At St. Lawrence, the program also sponsors faculty mentors for students and funds an initiative to lend laptops, calculators and digital cameras to students.

St. Lawrence Program Director Marsha A. Sawyer said the program would benefit 27 students each year over five years.

Clarkson’s program also funds visits to national conferences, seminars and workshops and assists students with the graduate school admissions process.

“At Clarkson, we’ve had a McNair program since 1996. Since then, we’ve served 240 students,” said Marjorie B. Warden, Clarkson CSTEP/McNair program director. “We have a 98 percent graduation rate among those students; 40 percent have obtained a master’s degree, 20 percent have obtained a Ph.D. and 6 percent have obtained a professional degree.”

Ms. Warden said Clarkson’s program would now support 30 students each year, up from 25 in previous years.

The McNair program is part of a cluster of U.S. Department of Education programs called TRIO, designed to serve and assist low-income, first-generation college students. TRIO funding also goes to the Upward Bound pre-college program and the Educational Talent Search.

Though Congress increased TRIO funding by 4 percent from $878.9 million in 2011 to $914.2 million this year, it reduced the McNair program’s funding by 21 percent, from $46.2 million in 2011 to $36.1 million this year.

Earlier in the year, St. Lawrence County’s only Upward Bound program, at SUNY Canton, was eliminated because of funding cuts.

TRIO programs have been placed on the chopping block by both Congress and the Obama administration, prompting university administrators and higher-education advocates to try to protect what they view as a successful program.

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