Last week, 15 young leaders from around the country came to the White House to meet with the Office of Public Engagement and Domestic Policy Council staff about TRIO, a set of federally funded opportunity programs. Among the leaders in attendance were youth mentors, recent college graduates, and graduate students who came to discuss the impacts and future of the program.
TRIO opportunity programs support students from disadvantaged backgrounds in their pursuit of a college degree and a successful career. Over 850,000 low income, first generation, and disabled students are able to participate in the programs from 6th grade through their college graduation. With more than 2,800 programs nationally, TRIO is the largest discretionary program in the U.S. Department of Education.
Upward Bound, just one of the many TRIO opportunities, helps youth prepare for higher education. Participants receive instruction in literature, composition, mathematics, and science on college campuses after school, on Saturdays and during the summer. Another program, Talent Search, helps first generation students whose family annual income is less than $33,075 better understand educational opportunities and options. The program provides participants with information about college admissions requirements, scholarships and various student financial aid programs.
Our country’s future depends on programs like these to ensure all Americans have an ability to not only attend school but also to succeed and find support in communities during their entire educational experience.
The young leaders came to the White House to discuss their experiences with TRIO, and explain why recent cuts to the program are hurting the students nationwide. They told their own success stories, and discussed how continued cuts will endanger the ability of future students to benefit as they did from these important services.
One advocate said that TRIO programs allowed them to graduate high school, go to college, and find a successful career. Without the support systems and mentorship provided by the program, she said she would never have been able to graduate high school and would have never considered college an option. Today, she is a successful post graduate who is working to better the lives of younger students in her community.
Another advocate underscored the importance of the TRIO program by saying “it’s not that I used to be a McNair Scholar, it is that I will always be a McNair Scholar.” She explained that the programs helped her get through high school and college because of the support systems in place through TRIO. Beyond that, her time in TRIO encouraged her to continue to work with students still in the programs to provide them with a positive example of what these programs can help them achieve.
TRIO is a cornerstone of President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of students graduating from college in the world by 2020. As we continue to move forward, it is vitally important that these programs remain a priority and students across the country are given an opportunity to succeed in school.
Isaiah Nelson is an Intern in the Office of Public Engagement