Sequestration Budget Battle Could Reduce Programs for Low-Income Students and Veterans
Federal TRIO programs help many get to and complete collegeThursday, February 21, 2013
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – More than 2,400 students in Northwest Arkansas, as well as parts of Missouri and Oklahoma, have a personal stake in the current Congressional debate over the federal budget. The same is true for 130 local veterans, 325 University of Arkansas students and the 25 full-time staff and other part-time workers who direct and staff eight federal programs within the office of diversity affairs at the U of A. For that matter, this also applies to thousands of students and veterans in other parts of Arkansas, and across the nation who are served any of the federal TRIO programs.
The majority of these students and veterans are, or will be, the first generation of their family to attend college. All of them are from low-income families and are part of groups that are traditionally underserved on college campuses.
These students all share the same goal: to improve their lives by attending and graduating from college.
“I joined Talent Search to help reach my goal: to be the first one in my entire family to graduate college,” said an eighth grade student at Oakdale Middle School in Rogers. “Talent Search means the world to me. It has opened my eyes to more things like costs, scholarships, colleges, and more opportunities for my future. Every student should be in one of these programs to learn about all the needs and opportunities for their future.”
A senior at Cedarville High School put it this way: “Talent Search has helped me throughout my school career. I have been with this program for seven years. They have helped me pay for the ACT, sign up for colleges, and much more. They have pushed me to keep going with my schoolwork. They have guided me to what I want to do for my career in life.”
The students are served as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO programs. The U of A is one of many universities and colleges that administer these programs nationwide, including several schools serving other parts of Arkansas. TRIO is not an acronym; in the 1960s it referred to a trio of outreach and student service programs designed to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO now includes eight programs that help low-income students, first-generation college students, veterans, and students with disabilities. The University of Arkansas administers three Talent Search programs, four Upward Bound programs, including one for veterans, and its oldest TRIO program, Student Support Services, which has worked with qualified U of A students since 1976.
“If the sequestration budget cuts go into effect the way they are planned, all TRIO programs will face a 5.1 percent cut in funding, starting in September,” said Gina Ervin, director of Talent Search programs. “This will either mean we have to cut back the number of students we can help get to college, or we cut back what we offer to the students we serve. Either way I’m afraid it will mean fewer young people having an opportunity to go to college.”
Talent Search programs recruit 6th and 7th grade students from local schools – 31 in Arkansas, from Fort Smith to Eureka Springs; two in Colcord, Okla.; and seven in southwest Missouri. The Talent Search staff members work in those schools with the students from the time they enter the program all through high school, helping them strengthen their academics, explaining what they need to do to qualify for college and scholarships, providing ACT preparation and payment, and assisting them with the application and financial aid process. The students are encouraged to attend college, any college. This is not a recruitment program for the U of A. It is an opportunity program to make a college education accessible for more students.
“The saddest thing about this is that these programs are economically efficient, and they work,” said Ervin. “We spend $454 per student per year in the Talent Search program, and last year 89 percent of our students went to college. And the retention rate for our students is exceptional. The University of Arkansas had an overall retention rate of 70.3 percent last year, which is excellent; but our Talent Search students’ retention rate was 80 percent. College isn’t easy, especially for students who are the first in their families to attend college. The TRIO students learn the discipline and study skills they need to succeed in college, and they get the encouragement and support they need as well. For a very small investment we are getting a new generation of college students, an educated workforce ready to help move our country forward.”
Upward Bound is another TRIO program, recruiting and working with students from 12 Northwest Arkansas high schools and two junior highs; in this case, however, the students come to the U of A campus for such services as tutoring, college prep classes, and ACT preparation. There are also summer programs that provide an intensive, six-week academic experience, and a “bridge” program to prepare students who are getting ready to attend college in the fall.
“I’m particularly worried that the Bridge program might not survive the budget cuts Congress is talking about,” said Keith Brink, director of the U of A Upward Bound programs. “This means our graduating seniors would lose the opportunity to receive college credit, work study options, and support services normally provided the summer before their freshman year in college. It reduces their chances of succeeding in college.”
The cuts would have a similar effect on University of Arkansas students in the Student Support Services program. They receive individual assessments, counseling, advising and help developing financial literacy and improving their academic skills, with the purpose of enabling them to graduate. The program also awards $25,000 in Grant Aid Scholarships every year. It is another program that works: 92.3 percent of its students are in good academic standing, and the program has a retention rate of 88.3 percent.
“I have serious concerns about the sustainability of the program and how we continue to serve the same number of students with less,” said Taj Cobbs, director of the program. “If the budget cut is put into effect it will have a significant impact on our ability to provide students with the necessary resources to be competitive both inside and outside the classroom.”
Gina Ervin, director
Talent Search Programs
Steve Voorhies, manager of media relations
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