TRiO Program Under Threat in Federal Budget

By Lura Jackson


There aren’t many advantages that low-income individuals have when they make the decision to earn a college degree or certificate, particularly when they are the first in their family to attend college. Such individuals – and there are many in Washington County – have been aided in their pursuit of higher education by a program called TRiO, which encompasses Student Support Services, Upward Bound, and more. Now, TRiO is facing a potentially major hurdle as a result of federal budget changes, and the staff of Washington County Community College [WCCC] is rallying to spread the word of its impact. 

TRiO’s beginning dates back to 1964 with the development of Upward Bound as part of the Economic Opportunity Act. Since that time, it has grown to include 2,800 college-level programs across the country, serving nearly 800,000 students a year. At WCCC, over 1,100 students have utilized the TRiO study center over the past five years, representing a significant portion of the student body. 

“The statistics tell one part of the story but the biggest part are the students themselves,” said Tatiana Osmond, Director of TRiO at WCCC. “College is a huge endeavor that involves more than just going to classes and handing in assignments. There is a whole new world to navigate, such as scheduling your own classes, and understanding what you need to take and when it is best to take those subjects.” Osmond explained that TRiO assists students with understanding everything from finances to online navigation and computer formatting. “Then there are all the non-cognitive skills that help every individual in school and the workplace, such as time-management, initiative, motivation, and persistence, to name a few.”

The difference between low-income, first generation college students and high-income students from families with college-educated parents is significant when it comes to their likelihood to persist and succeed in college. “This is where TRiO has its biggest impact, giving those students somewhere they can turn to get guidance and advice,” Osmond said. Two-year schools with TRiO’s Student Support Services in place graduate students at a rate of 41 percent, compared with 28 percent at similar schools without TRiO. 

The threat to TRiO comes largely from the federal government’s proposed 2019 budget, which eliminates 10 percent of funding altogether from the Department of Education. The budget would consolidate TRiO and GEARUP, reducing the budgets of both by a combined $193 million and shifting the burden of cost to the states. 

TRiO may be further impacted by the 2018 PROSPER Act, which is anticipated to be voted on in the first half of the national congressional session. The act will require any institution that hosts a TRiO program, such as WCCC, to match 20 percent of its costs with its own money. It also removes any edge that established TRiO programs have had in the past when going through the process of reapplying for grant funds, an advantage that has enabled the WCCC program to remain in place for years. 

“TRiO is a place were the main focus is the success of the student,” said Gayle Moholland, former TRiO director at WCCC. Moholland has seen firsthand how the TRiO program has impacted students over several years. “It makes the difference for the at-risk student between dropping out and walking across that stage in May and receiving the keys to a new life.”

To voice the perspective of WCCC, President Joe Cassidy will be meeting with U.S. Senator Angus King to present testimony from former students and staff.