Opinion

UMPI’s Upward Bound class thrives in preserved program

As Maine and our nation face the challenge of a transforming global economy, it is more essential than ever that the door to higher education is open to all, regardless of economic status.  For more than 50 years, federal programs called TRIO have been the key to educational opportunity for many low-income or first-generation students.

Each year, TRIO programs serve some 900,000 students throughout the country. There are currently 28 TRIO Programs in Maine that serve 7,415 students, up from 6,690 in 2007. 

The first of these programs, Upward Bound, was established in 1964 with the goal of providing support to high school students in their preparation for college.  Upward Bound is proven to increase the rate at which participants complete high school as well as enroll in and graduate from postsecondary institutions.

I recently met with a group of 17 students who are participating in the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Upward Bound Program in my Washington office.  The students, as well as program coordinator Danette Madore, also went on a tour of the U.S. Capitol.

It is always a pleasure to welcome Maine students to our nation’s capital.  It was especially significant to meet these particular students because just two years ago, UMPI’s Upward Bound program was threatened when the U.S. Department of Education initially rejected its application due to a minor formatting issue.  I worked to reverse this senseless bureaucratic decision that jeopardized the education and hopes of hundreds of students in Maine who depend on Upward Bound to succeed in higher education.

UMPI’s application for the Upward Bound program was one of dozens of TRIO grant applications that were rejected in 2017 due to arbitrary formatting requirements issued by the previous administration.  In UMPI’s case, the issue was with two infographics on the 65-page application that had 1.5 line spacing rather than double line spacing. In response to language I included in the Department’s appropriations bill, the Department of Education finally changed course and agreed to review these applications on their merits.

As the co-chair of the Congressional TRIO Caucus, I have been a strong advocate of these important programs.  In June, Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and I introduced legislation that would reauthorize the federal TRIO Programs through 2025 and initiate key reforms to make it easier to enroll students in the TRIO programs.  One of the provisions in our bill would permanently prevent the situation that UMPI faced in 2017.

Upward Bound produces results.  A Department of Education report issued to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the program found that 86 percent of Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math-Science participants in 2013–14 high school graduating classes enrolled immediately in a program of postsecondary education.   Post-secondary education gives displaced adult workers a fresh start and a chance to move even farther ahead. It is the incubator for our next generation of entrepreneurs and a new economy.

But economic statistics tell only part of the story.  When we lend a hand to those who are determined to pursue higher education but who lack the means, they give back.  I have had the pleasure over the years to meet many students who have benefited from TRIO and who have overcome great obstacles to achieve great things.  It was heartening to meet the UMPI Upward Bound students and to know that their futures are limited only by their energy and commitment, not by their economic background.

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