Thursday, March 04, 2010

Upward Bound needs your help: Why TRiO programs need to be fully-funded recently posted a call to action, asking readers to contact their federal elected officials in support of TRiO programs.

TRiO programs are “federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.” In essence, these programs allow low-income and disabled students the opportunity and tools to become the first in their families to go to college.

According to, during the last grant cycle (in 2007) for TRiO’s Upward Bound (UB) program, nearly 200 Upward Bound programs lost their funding, including a disproportionate number of programs housed at historically black institutions. It is my understanding that in response to this loss, an amendment to the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) “provided $57 million each year for fiscal years 2008-2001” to fund UB programs that served approximately 12,000 students. Unfortunately, because the funds were put into effect immediately – and didn’t result in forward-funding like typical TRiO grants – there are no funds to account for these programs once the CCRAA’s money runs out.

Essentially, by not providing additional discretionary funds to cover the costs of these programs, the government has decided to cut the number of active Upward Bound programs from 964 to 788, serving 12,000 fewer students each year. This is in addition to the over 39,000 students who already lost services for fiscal year 2010, due to rising costs.

Why is Upward Bound so important?

For starters, Upward Bound evens the academic playing field for at-risk kids. The teenagers who participate in UB programs can be from low-income or minority families, the first in their families to go to college. Many are also homeless or living “doubled up” with friends or family. Most UB students are a combination of some or all of those things. They also live in economically-depressed areas, like rural communities with high rates of poverty and few social service programs or big cities with lots of crime and few jobs. These are kids who are unlikely to go on to college without the guidance of a program like Upward Bound.

As a former UB student, I urge you – the readers – to encourage your elected officials to support the expansion of TRiO programs and, consequently, funding for the 2011 fiscal year. Because of the Upward Bound program, I was encouraged to go to college and given the tools to do so.

I grew up in a rural, economically-depressed area, where less than half of my classmates made it through four-year college. With Upward Bound's guidance (and financial assistance) I applied to seven colleges and universities, was accepted at six, and graduated cum laude in four years with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology. I was the first in my family to go to and graduate from college. It was something no one else had ever been able to do. In fact, shortly after my graduation, I had to attend the funeral of a family member. At the service, my grandfather pulled me close to him and said to anyone who would listen, “That’s my granddaughter – she’s a college graduate!”

The fact that I went to and was able to graduate from college was no small feat. I didn’t know anything about college until Upward Bound came along and helped me through the process. I wouldn’t have known to take difficult courses and the SATs – kids who have college graduates for parents know those things, but why would it occur to the rest of us? That I was guided through the process and given the skills (academic and emotional) to cope with and excel in college, resulted in my becoming the first person in my family to go to college; I hope that future generations of my family will be able to pursue their dreams of higher education as well.

In addition to helping me as a high school student, Upward Bound was also able to provide me with an internship during the summer, in between semesters at college. That lead to offers of employment every summer thereafter and turned into a fulltime job upon graduation. I was eventually promoted from Office Manager to Academic Advisor, and I was given the opportunity to help guide hundreds of other kids through the college process. I also helped to educate parents, teaching them how to advocate for themselves and their children by requesting AP classes and extracurricular activities at their children’s schools. I helped raise funds to cover the gaps between a student’s financial aid packet and the cost of college. I took everything that Upward Bound taught me, turned around, and taught it to those kids coming up behind me. I know the value of what was given to me and am eager to pay my good fortune forward.

TRiO programs need to be fully-funded. The opportunity to grow up with Upward Bound and then work for the program made me who I am today. The government likes to count things, to prove that their programs are making a difference. I don’t know if you can count the individuals who went on to lead productive lives because of UB, but I’m afraid that you can count the number of people who didn’t – they’re the ones in dead-end service jobs, in prison, in rough neighborhoods, and in bad relationships, because they didn’t have access to someone who cared about them and guided them through high school and college. They didn’t have the support networks that UB students build with their classmates, teachers, and advisors. They didn’t know that anyone believed in them, and they didn’t get the chance to shine.

College should not be a privilege enjoyed only by the rich or the offspring of college graduates. TRiO programs (including Upward Bound) allow children of all backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnicities to achieve academic success. These students grow up to give back to their communities and become productive members of society. Eliminating or level-funding TRiO programming is irresponsible and will result in a greater discrepancy between the haves and have-nots in American society.

By not funding the Upward Bound program, we are denying our children the opportunity to take charge of their education and we are most certainly depriving ourselves of a brighter future filled with teachers, doctors, lawyers, writers, social workers, businesspeople, and entrepreneurs who knew what it was like to grow up poor. These are precisely the kind of people we need to make the world a better place. They are the people who give back to their communities by mentoring the next generation of at-risk kids so that the cycle of learning and giving back continues.

Please join the cause and write to your elected officials. You can find them online through the call to action and read more about the issue at the Council for Opportunity in Education.

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