University finds aid to returning students

Every fall, non-traditional senior Tammy Karlen said she yearned to return to school to finish her bachelor’s degree. Then she found an advertisement for the Educational Opportunity Center and met with an EOC counselor, Sallie Kernan.

EOC director Pamela Holsinger-Fuchs said the organization is similar to an advising service for adults making education and job choices.

“Primarily, it’s to provide access for students to go to college,” she said.

Karlen said she and Kernan took personality tests and discussed college applications. A year later, Karlen returned to meet with Kernan. The second time, Karlen said Kernan helped her with her college applications and financial aid.

“I think the only thing I had left to do when I left there was get my transcripts transferred,” Karlen said.

Karlen will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems from the College of Business.

This is just one example of the free assistance EOC offers adults. Recently, Holsinger-Fuchs said she has seen an increase in the number of clients in need of EOC assistance because of recent layoffs.

Funded by the Department of Education, EOC is a program under TRiO.

TRiO is a series of programs started in 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, Holsinger-Fuchs said. There were originally three programs but they have expanded with additional programs. EOC is one of those. Another TRiO program on campus is Student Support Services.

There are 135 EOCs in the nation and two in Wisconsin; one here, which covers a 10-county region, and one in Milwaukee.

“There’s a great portion of the state that actually, we can’t serve,” she said. “That is the one limitation.”

The target populations EOC works with are low-income individuals, first-generation college students and veterans.

Holsinger-Fuchs said the program works with 1,100 students per year, the required amount they have to work with in order to keep their federal funding. Two-thirds of the 1,100 fall under the target population. The other one-third can be people who do not necessarily meet these requirements.

Although they go over that amount, she said they stay close to the required amount because they have funding for that many people.

The EOC program, located in the Old Library at the university, has been here since 1994. Despite its location, EOC is not part of UW-Eau Claire.

Some services include financial aid, career planning, and helping students do college applications, among many other services.

“Our job is really to help talk people through what it is that’s keeping them actually from going to college and trying to network and resource and make referrals,” Holsinger-Fuchs said.

Karlen said even though she knows she could have done it alone, EOC was the extra help she needed to return to school. She added that she would recommend EOC to other adults.

“I would definitely say to check into it,” she said. “They’re so knowledgeable about so many different areas.”