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Students Rally at U.S. Capitol to Urge Increased Support of TRIO and GEAR UP Programs


Neither soggy terrain nor vehement thunderstorms detoured nearly 200 students from across the nation from assembling on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building Tuesday to join officials from the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) in petitioning legislators to increase funding for federal TRIO programs, such as Upward Bound, and the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). The petitioning students participate in TRIO programs in their respective communities and campuses, according to a COE spokeswoman.

TRIO includes seven outreach and support programs targeted to serve low-income, first-generation college students, veterans and students with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school through college. While participating in their respective TRIO programs, students receive tutoring, mentoring, leadership training and college counseling from well-trained counselors and directors. Like TRIO, GEAR UP initiatives encourage low-income students to consider and prepare for college.

With a federal appropriation of $905 million this year, TRIO programs and GEAR UP can only afford to serve about 11 percent of the students who are eligible nationally, says Kimberly Jones, director of congressional affairs for COE.

Under the Obama administration, COE officials hope to see a $120 million increase for the 2010 fiscal year.

“We are only serving a fraction of the people who are eligible,” says Jones. “When we fight for increased funding, it broadens the size and scope of existing programs and allows a greater number of students to access them.”

For decades, these programs have equipped students with the tools they need to successfully begin their college careers, persist in their studies, and earn bachelor’s degrees, organizers say.

“I was smart, but [being smart] didn’t get me to college. Someone had to help me. Someone had to believe in me. It took someone from Upward Bound to reach down and identify me,” said U.S. Rep. Gwendolyn Moore, D-Wisconsin, a TRIO alumna, while addressing the group of TRIO students.

For the United States to maintain its status as a world superpower, it must increase its investment in the education of the populations that TRIO and GEAR UP serve, said U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, D-New Jersey. 

Despite having historical success, thousands of students are at risk of losing the critical services of TRIO and GEAR UP if no additional funding is adopted to President Obama’s FY 2010 budget, organizers say.

More than 2,800 TRIO and GEAR UP projects currently serve nearly 1 million low-income Americans. According to data collected by COE, 37 percent of TRIO and GEAR UP students are Whites, 35 percent are African-Americans, 19 percent are Hispanics, 4 percent are Native Americans, and 4 percent are Asian-Americans.


Students in the Upward Bound program are four times more likely to earn an undergraduate degree than students from similar backgrounds who did not participate in TRIO.


“TRIO is not a superficial program,” said Shane Thompson, a 17-year-old high school student from Florida. “They really want you to excel. I was failing Calculus and really needed help. TRIO paid for online Calculus tutoring to help me improve. I went from a failing grade to a ‘B.’”

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