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GEAR UP, TRIO Officials Mobilize Support To Save College-Access Programs

GEAR UP, TRIO Officials Mobilize Support
To Save College-Access Programs
By Tracie Powell

With an older brother in prison and a father he hardly knew, the most Ronnie Rice had hoped for was a spot in the military or a job at one of the factories in his hometown of Mobile, Ala. For this borderline high-school student, college wasn’t really a consideration.

“If it weren’t for Upward Bound, I’d be working at the air-conditioning plant,” says Rice, who participated in Upward Bound’s Math/Science program while in high school. Now a sophomore psychology major at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Rice is among a coalition of alumni fighting to save federally funded college and career preparatory programs like the one that showed him the importance of an education.

President George W. Bush’s proposed 2006 budget calls for the elimination of 48 education programs, including Upward Bound and Talent Search, two programs that for nearly 40 years have helped low-income students prepare for college. Also slated for elimination are GEAR UP, an early college awareness program that usually begins in middle school, and the Carl D. Perkins Act, a $1.3 billion federal program for career and technical education.

The Bush administration questions the programs’ effectiveness in steering student-participants to college. Officials also say the cuts will help eliminate duplication of services.

Created by the Higher Education Act of 1965, Upward Bound, Talent Search and four other programs were created to give disadvantaged students necessary tutoring in high school and access to higher education. Over the years, the programs have faced down the budget-cutting ax.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve had to fight back attempts to cut these programs,” says U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa. Fattah says he’s successfully mobilizing bipartisan support to fight the cuts and notes that the latest assault upon the programs is likely to fail.

Adding that he anticipates Bush will come after the programs again, Fattah rebuffs assertions that the programs may be duplicative and wasteful. “Those statements simply don’t deal with the facts,” said Fattah, explaining that Upward Bound provides intensive assistance to select high-school students, while GEAR UP — a program which he helped create — works with larger groups of students at the middle-school level.

“These programs, both Upward Bound and GEAR UP, as well as the others, provide important access for our young people to go to college.

Many congressional leaders, Republicans and Democrats, know this,” Fattah says.

But while Fattah says he is optimistic about beating back attempts to do away with the educational programs, other supporters said this time is different.

“There is something insidiously different this time,” says Dr. Arnold Mitchem, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, which is organizing national opposition to the cuts. “President Bush is trying to redefine the entire federal role in education and he’s trying to repeal the promises made to low-income people.”

Former President Ronald Reagan only tried to reduce funding, not eliminate the programs altogether, Mitchem says. “No one anticipated that this president or any other president would attempt to roll back progress,” Mitchem says. “This is not more of the same, this is different and this is dangerous.”

Under Bush’s plan, funds would be given to states to distribute into educational programs of their choosing, thus making states and school districts more accountable, federal officials contend. Termination of the federal programs like Upward Bound would also allow the administration to put more money into the No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress authorized in 2001 and critics decry as being woefully underfunded.

“What Bush doesn’t understand is that we are the No Child Left Behind grant and have been for the last 40 years,” says Ruby Jackson Byrd, who oversees the federal initiatives at Morehouse. Nearly 20,000 students have participated in the program, Byrd says, with more than 90 percent of them continuing on to college and graduate school.

Byrd is particularly concerned about the lack of diversity and access in scientific fields already, and said successful programs like Upward Bound’s Math/Science Research Program — that hosts 70 students each summer — are being cut at a time when they are most needed.

“Why cut something with a proven success record?” she asks. “To cut this grant is to be cutting away at the core that has allowed this country to progress.”

Rice, one of five children born to a single mother and the first to attend college in his family, has designs on a doctoral degree and wants to counsel young people after he leaves the historically Black, all-male Morehouse. “Upward Bound was a blessing,” he says. “I just want my younger brothers and sister to have the same opportunity I did.”

Despite feeling that his hands are tied, Rice says he’s writing letters to Congressional leaders and calling on other alumni to do the same. So far,Upward Bound and Talent Search program students and alumni from Morehouse have mailed 9,000 letters to Congressional leaders, and more are expected, Byrd says.

“It amazed me,” Rice said after hearing about the budget cuts. “The students that we’re getting now are barely getting into college and they want to make it worse. This is outrageous, I don’t know what they’re trying to prove by cutting these programs.”

A march is scheduled later this month in which supporters, alumni included, will go to Washington to lobby against the cuts.

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