Bowlin, a Fort Wayne, Ind., native, earned a bachelor's degree in psychology this May from Purdue University thanks in part to Horizons, a program in the Office of the Dean of Students that helps students reach their potential.
Since 1978, Horizons has been helping about 330 students each year learn the skills necessary to earn a degree at Purdue, says Paul M. Dale, assistant dean of students and program director. Horizons is open to students who are first-generation college students, come from a low-income family or have a physical disability.
As affirmative action programs face more criticism and legal challenges, programs such as Horizons are an attractive option for colleges and universities, Dale says. Although Horizons does not select students based on ethnic background, it does help many of the students who would be assisted by an affirmative action program.
Bowlin came to Purdue in the fall of 1990 after learning that he had Usher's Syndrome, which causes visual and hearing impairments. He had worked in a blue-collar job for about 10 years, and he talked with officials at several schools before settling on Purdue.
"I didn't have the greatest grades in high school," Bowlin says. "But Purdue accepted me and gave me a shot. Now, I'm going to Ball State this fall to work on a master's degree in vocational rehabilitation, and eventually I want to work in higher education with other people with disabilities."
Horizons students have been admitted to Purdue, but have less academic preparation than the average Purdue student, Dale says. For example, during the past eight years, the average SAT score of a Horizons student has been 176 points below the universitywide average.
"But less preparation before coming to Purdue doesn't mean less success at Purdue," Dale says. "Our staff works closely with new students, and students who continue in the program provide advice and serve as role models for the new participants."
Horizons students have access to a special computer lab and receive individualized instruction in word processing. Students may request tutoring for any course they are taking at Purdue. The Horizons staff works closely with the Division of Financial Aid to help students coordinate aid packages.
"The entire staff is very supportive," Bowlin says. "They are there with moral and academic support or whatever else they can do. The tutoring program is probably the best on campus. Their attitude is 'You have to do the work, but we'll help wherever we can.' Horizons staff are the main reason I made it through college."
Bowlin's experience with the Horizons staff encouraged him to change his major from agriculture to psychology. Before graduating, he worked as a Horizons peer counselor and as a teaching assistant for the program's orientation class.
That class, "Strategies for Effective Academic Performance," is the first course taken by the 100 or so new Horizons students each fall. Students undergo a series of tests to map out individual academic strengths and liabilities. Based on the results, students learn about and use study skills and strategies to meet their individual needs.
"I would not have admitted it at the time, but the skills I learned in that first semester made a big difference," Bowlin says. "I used those skills from the time I first learned them, right through my last exam. The ideas and techniques are things anyone in college can benefit from."
Most Horizons students agree with Bowlin's praise for the program. As part of a study, Dale had students fill out a questionnaire about the value of services. Eighty percent of the students answering the survey said just knowing assistance was available was very helpful to them. Students also gave the tutoring, study skills training and personal counseling high marks.
Dale quantified the program's successes by conducting a study with 47 students who started with Horizons in the fall of 1990 and a group of 47 other students who were eligible for the program but chose not to participate. By the spring 1995 semester, 53 percent of the control group had withdrawn from the university, compared with a 15 percent withdrawal rate for Horizons students.
Federal funds, referred to as TRIO grants, provided $234,601 to run Horizons this year. TRIO grants support similar programs at colleges and universities throughout the country.
Sources: Paul M. Dale, (765) 494-7093; (765) 572-2816; Internet, email@example.com
Bill Bowlin, (219) 422-3860
Writer: J. Michael Willis, (765) 494-0371; Internet, firstname.lastname@example.org
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