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A Chance at College

IOWA CITY, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- President Obama called 2014 a year of action on Thursday, saying the country to take steps toward growing the economy, by making higher education more available to low-income students.

It's an effort already well underway in the Corridor, including at the University of Iowa, which just announced a new program targeting first generation students, and with good reason: about one-third of Iowa's students are the first in their families to go to college.

"I think a lot of parents who didn't go to school, it's sort of hard to understand how much it's going to cost, how long it's going to take, what's the advantage of going to college -- things we might take for granted," said Provost Barry Butler.

That's why the university created the Storm Lake Scholars program. Starting this fall, Iowa will take a cluster of 10 to 20 students from the largely immigrant town of Storm Lake, and bring them as a group to campus, enrolling them in classes together, giving them management tools, and assigning them faculty mentors.

The program was started after Storm Lake reached out to the university to find a solution for the high number of first generation students in town.

Butler said, this is about about giving students a chance at a college education.

"It's proven time and time again that having the opportunity to get a college degree is an enabler for a lifetime," he said.

And that lifetime starts early. "We really have to start with the students when they're in middle school, junior high and high school," Butler said.

It's why North Central Junior High School assistant principal Emily O'Donnell and the Iowa City Community School District's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) team is holding six sessions this semester to help students fill out the complicated paperwork.

"Some students aren't even aware that they can qualify for grants or scholarships, or they've just kind of taken college out of the equation because they didn't know how they were going to pay for it," O'Donnell said.

Helping kids unlock that equation is one of the district's biggest priorities, she said.
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