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Efforts Underway To Thwart Controversial Upward Bound Changes

Tucked into a U.S. House of Representatives higher education bill this week is a plan to scuttle a controversial evaluation of the Upward Bound program that would require grantees to enroll twice as many students as necessary and then provide no services to some of the youth as part of a research experiment.

The plan already faces opposition from members of the college access community, who say that recruiting students and then denying them services is unethical. Supporters of the U.S. Department of Education’s plan say the goal is to assign students randomly to Upward Bound or an unserved control group to better assess the program’s long-term effects.

As it took up a higher education and student aid bill this week, the House Education and Labor Committee passed an amendment that would prohibit the study’s implementation. The amendment still would need approval from the full House and Senate as well as the White House, so final action is uncertain.

“I hope we just would tell the Department of Education not to do this,” said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., a Congressional Black Caucus member who proposed the amendment.

The move follows several weeks of activity on the issue on Capitol Hill. In late May, most members of the Black Caucus signed a letter to House leaders opposing the evaluation plan for Upward Bound, one of the government’s TRIO college access programs.

Caucus members said random assignment “will have negative consequences for students, families and TRIO educators.” Individual colleges also would face a “loss of credibility and goodwill” in their communities, since grantees in essence would falsely recruit many students with no intention to serve them.

Scott’s amendment states that the Education Department “shall not implement or enforce, and shall rescind” the evaluation strategy, first outlined in fall 2006.

The House committee also approved another Scott amendment that may help some historically Black colleges and universities win back their Upward Bound grants.

This amendment provides an extra $30 million a year for Upward Bound grantees that received funds for 2006 but not for 2007. An estimated 21 HBCUs and seven Hispanic-serving institutions lost their Upward Bound grants when the government recently announced the latest program grants, says the Council for Opportunity in Education, a Washington, D.C., group that advocates for TRIO programs.

According to COE, nearly 30 percent of the programs at HBCUs were not re-funded for fall 2007. Nationwide, about 12 percent of past grantees lost their funds.

Under the Scott plan, these HBCUs and HSIs — along with other defunded programs — could retain their grants if they received a score of at least 70 from their grant reviewers.

COE has claimed that recent Upward Bound competitions were flawed because the Education Department did not properly calculate the “prior experience” of some applicants. The council also fought off attempts by the Bush administration in 2005 and 2006 to terminate Upward Bound. Congress ultimately rejected the administration’s requests.

The Scott amendments are now part of the College Cost Reduction Act, which would increase Pell Grants, cut lender subsidies and increase support for minority-serving institutions. The act cleared the House committee by a 30-16 vote on June 13 and is now part of a 2008 budget bill headed for the House floor.

–Charles Dervarics

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