Low-Income Students Perform Well at St. Lawrence

The data solidly prove that low-income students perform just as well as the overall student body at St. Lawrence University. But the data only tell part of the story.

Recently, U.S. News and World Report named St. Lawrence University as a top-performing school for low-income students, who graduate at nearly the same rate as the rest of the student population. Low-income students are classified as those who receive Pell Grants, the federal financial aid program that provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate students.

There are of course strict admission standards that incoming students must meet in order to be admitted to St. Lawrence. There are also, like at many institutions, a number of support services such as academic advising, disability and accessibility services, and career services.

St. Lawrence offers the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (C-STEP), which helps to increase the number of historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students move into professional education programs and careers in mathematics, science, technology and health-related fields. There’s also the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which steers underrepresented student populations into doctoral degrees programs. And St. Lawrence features the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), which is designed to support students who come from low-income families and demonstrate the potential for successful completion of an undergraduate degree program.

“St. Lawrence does a great job helping our low-income students not only afford college but also succeed in college,” said Marsha Sawyer, project director for C-STEP and the McNair grant. “It’s all about an integration of the services we offer.”

But, there seems to be something more to it than just the practical aspects of the college education.

“I think there’s a real commitment to the students at St. Lawrence that is significant to the success of our students,” Sawyer said. “A lot of schools have these same programs, but we go even farther. Our low-income students also have available to them experiential educational opportunities, community-based learning opportunities, international opportunities, and research opportunities just like any other student. I see faculty members taking students to conferences and graduate school visits and getting them acclimated to the graduate school experience. All of these factors come together to make our students more interested in setting their own academic goals, which ultimately results in their success.”

Pell grant recipients currently make up 18.4 percent of St. Lawrence’s student body. Those low-income students had a graduation rate of 79 percent compared to the overall graduation rate of 80 percent. Graduation rates measure the proportion of first-time, full-time students who complete a degree program within six years of being admitted.

About one-third of the students from Northern New York receive Pell grants, which is almost twice as high as compared to the rest of the student population.

Jeff Rickey, vice president and dean for admissions and financial aid, points to the hard-working nature of low-income families.

“I consider this a celebration for our North Country students,” he said. “Low-income families tend to be hard-working, have strong moral values, and are resilient. That attitude goes with them to the classroom and beyond.”

Rickey said that low-income students also greatly benefit from St. Lawrence’s First-Year Program (FYP), which helps students successfully transition from high school to college.

“Low-income students connect fully and completely in our FYP, just as any other student would,” he said. “Many of these students are the first in their family to go to college and might not know how to navigate the higher education environment. If they are a first-generation college student, then the FYP can provide them with a blue print and a framework for how to be successful in college.”

Sawyer and Rickey said that St. Lawrence’s alumni who were low-income students themselves also serve as a powerful resource for current students.

“Our alumni network of low-income students is still rather small,” Sawyer said. “For example, we only have had 88 McNair Scholars graduate since 2003. But, as those students continue to complete doctoral programs, they will become significant role models for our current low-income and underrepresented students.”

Visit U.S. News and World Report to view St. Lawrence’s low-income students performance rating.