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PROSPER Act’s Impact on TRIO Programs Concerns Many Schools

More than 400 higher education institutions are worried about some proposed revisions to the federal TRIO Programs in the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act.

Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education registered the concerns on April 10 in a letter to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce on behalf of 413 institutions.

Maureen HoylerMaureen Hoyler

The COE staff “started with a list of concerns, and some were added by the schools,” Holyer told Diverse in an interview.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Hoyler said the nonprofit advocacy organization she leads are among those who believe that, if enacted, the proposed changes would have harmful consequences such as diminishing institutions’ ability to provide the academic, financial and cultural support needed for low-income and first-generation students.

Upward Bound, Talent Search and other TRIO programs are outreach and student service programs designed by the federal Department of Education to identify and provide resources for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly low-income and first-generation students.

One of the issues raised by COE is that the legislation would require the Secretary of Education to reserve portions of the TRIO appropriation for people who have never before received a TRIO grant.

Another revision in the bill requires that the secretary reserve portions of the TRIO appropriation to fund “a newly created competitive grant program known as IMPACT Grants,” according to Hoyler.

Decisions regarding these two matters, Hoyler said, should be left for congressional approval.

“We greatly understand and appreciate the committee’s interest in expanding the universe of institutions that host TRIO programs,” Hoyler said. “Yet, in attempting to achieve these goals, the PROSPER Act wrests authority from the Congress and forces legislators to yield completely to the will of the secretary of education.”

An institution’s own host program would limit eligible funds received, she added, saying that the revisions would allow the education secretary to limit a school’s eligibility to receive TRIO funds because the school sponsors a similar program that may or may not be funded from a different source. An exception would be if the program serves a different population or a different campus.

Basically, Hoyler said, it would penalize institutions that invest their own resources or Educational Opportunity Programs in promoting successful outcomes for students who need assistance.

Additionally, Hoyler said, the PROSPER Act revisions would require applicants to secure a 20-percent match for proposed grants. She noted that many higher education institutions are under-resourced and must constantly battle for resources to accommodate their many low-income and first-generation students.

The effects could extend to nonprofit agencies that provide services in areas where youth and adults are in need, she added.

Although matching TRIO funds would not necessarily have to come from the schools themselves, Hoyler said, the “creation of this requirement would impose a severe burden on entities located in areas where few partners for such a match exist.”

Concerns also were expressed to the congressional leaders that the revision does not distinguish between institutional efforts to assist students who are enrolled as undergraduates and others who are served through TRIO’s pre-college outreach programs, which include serving youth, out-of-work adults and military veterans.

The PROSPER Act revisions authorize $900 million in federal funding for TRIO in the 2019 fiscal year and the following five fiscal years. The proposed funding level, Hoyler said, would be a decrease of $110 million from the amount Congress approved for the 2018 fiscal year.

The reduced funding, along with the funds that would be reserved for new applicants and IMPACT grants, would ultimately cut the amount of funding available for current students in the TRIO programs.

The House “is basically cutting everything in that bill,” Hoyler said. “This is part of their interest in reducing the investment in low-income students. [The funding] needs to be increased. We’re serving fewer than seven percent of the eligible population.”

Despite the major revisionsthe COE hopes to see, Hoyler said some of the their recommendations were accepted and others are still being discussed.

“And not everything the committee [proposed] did we object to,” Hoyler said.

One of the requests made by the COE was for the committee to take steps to strengthen the non-financial supportive services available for low-income, first-generation students and students with disabilities.

Other proposals presented by the COE include strengthening and refining accountability measures, relieving regulatory burdens in determining income eligibility and preserving protections for students while promoting rigorous evaluations.

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