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Utah’s Rep. Ben McAdams joins UVU president Astrid Tuminez to tout plan to help underserved students ‘FINISH’ college

Students walk across campus between classes at Utah Valley University in Orem on Wednesday, Aug. 28,
Students walk across campus between classes at Utah Valley University in Orem on Wednesday, Aug. 28,
Steve Griffin

OREM — As college students, both Rep. Ben McAdams and Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez needed a boost to complete their degrees.

For Tuminez, who grew up in the slums of the Philippines, scholarships and mentors made it possible for her to achieve her dreams.

McAdams, whose missionary service and change of major meant his college experience wasn’t a linear journey, spoke of working four jobs one summer of college and eating sack lunches and dinners on the car ride between workplaces.

He recognized other students had challenges, too. Speaking at UVU on Wednesday, McAdams said he knew students who had to drop out of school because they could not find child care.

As University of Utah student body president his final year in school, he worked on an initiative that expanded child care services and child care scholarships to young parents attempting to balance the demands of family and school.

Fast forward to 2019 and McAdams is a freshman Democrat in Congress for Utah, and he’s attempting to build on that work.

“It’s been a passion of mine for many years to have the university system reflect the needs of the student instead of the student just fit into the box of a four-year degree,” he said.

McAdams and Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, have introduced the Fund for Innovation and Success in Higher Education Act. The “FINISH” Act would authorize grants to help schools test innovative ways to help first-generation, low-income and other nontraditional students enroll in and complete college.

“This measure builds on the movement to ‘fund what works’ in government by incentivizing development of innovative programs tied to measurable results. In this case, we are encouraging higher education to think and operate differently to bolster college graduation rates, which will benefit students, their families, employers and communities,” McAdams said in a prepared statement.

The FINISH Act would also authorize five Pay for Success pilot programs, which enable university, state and nonprofit partners to collaborate on improving student outcomes. The Department of Education would only pay if an independent evaluation demonstrates the pilot has achieved desired results.

Tuminez, whose educational journey took her from university studies in the Philippines as a teenager to Brigham Young University and then graduate studies at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said her journey was aided by scholarships and mentors who took a personal interest in her education.

Students walk across campus between classes at Utah Valley University in Orem on Wednesday, Aug. 28,
Students walk across campus between classes at Utah Valley University in Orem on Wednesday, Aug. 28,
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

She noted numerous programs at UVU specifically designed to help first-generation students complete their college degrees along with new Americans and other nontraditional students who have returned to school after a break.

Tuminez said people sometimes ask her if she was confident as a student.

“The answer was actually, ‘No,’ ” she said. But she learned firsthand that “success builds on success.”

“As I finished that first semester I knew that I could do it and go on to that next semester,” she said. After earning her degree, she applied to graduate school for a master’s degree, then a doctorate.

“All of that was stacking confidence,” she said.

UVU student Emily Shaw said she returned to school after taking a break to care for her three children. When they started school, she resumed her studies, first with online classes.

She’s now working on a graphic design degree, has a part-time job on campus that works with her class schedule and she’s on track to finish her bachelor’s degree.

“I couldn’t be happier to be a Wolverine,” Shaw said.