Washington Watch: A bundle of programs to assist students in need

Being ready for college is critical to succeeding in college, but good support services also can help.

The TRIO programs — among the federal government’s largest investments in programs for low-income students — help students prepare for, enroll in and complete postsecondary education. Through educational outreach and support services, these programs provide an essential pipeline to more than 800,000 low-income students annually.

Those benefiting from TRIO programs represent a wide range of students, from sixth graders to doctoral candidates, including adult learners and those with disabilities. TRIO helps thousands of community college students each year.

A brief history

TRIO is a bundle of programs. Upward Bound, Talent Search and Special Services for Disadvantaged Students (now called Student Support Services) were created in the 1960s under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) designed to foster increased educational opportunity and attainment.

Since 1968, TRIO has expanded to offer a wider range of services. In addition to the original three, Congress added:

  • Educational Opportunity Centers to help adults select a postsecondary education program and obtain financial aid
  • Veterans Upward Bound
  • Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement program to foster doctoral degree attainment by students from underrepresented populations
  • Upward Bound Math and Science program

Congress added two programs focused on improving the design and administration of these programs. These last two programs include the Training Program for Federal TRIO Programs and the TRIO Dissemination Partnership Program to encourage the replication of successful TRIO practices.

The 1998 HEA amendments also authorized the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program to assist institutions in providing campus-based child-care services for low-income student parents.

Funding programs

TRIO has received increases in federal funding over the past few years, growing from $900 million in fiscal year (FY) 2016 to a little over $1 billion this fiscal year. Senate appropriators want to keep TRIO funding for FY 2019 at current levels, but House appropriators would like to increase it by $50 million. Congress is soon expected to resume consideration of the FY 2019 funding bills.

The Student Support Services (SSS) program is one of the two largest TRIO programs. It received roughly $310 million in FY 2017, while the Upward Bound program – focused on students ages 13 to 19 – received $312 million. The SSS is the TRIO program with the most two-year college grantees and the biggest impact on assisting eligible students to enroll and persist.

Talent Search is a smaller program – 160 two-year colleges received about $43 million in grants in 2013-14 compared to 204 four-year institutions that received nearly $61 million in 2013-14. Other organizations received 88 Talent Search grants for about $25 million that year.

Who is eligible

The TRIO programs help motivate and prepare first-generation, low-income students for college and career success. While allowable activities vary by program, much of the funding goes to academic advising, career counseling, college entrance exam preparation, assistance with completing financial aid applications and college admissions forms, tutoring and mentoring. TRIO also helps adult learners prepare to return to the classroom and provides the support they need to learn how to balance college with family and career responsibilities.

Two-thirds of the students served must come from families with incomes at 150 percent or less of the federal poverty level and in which neither parent graduated from college. More than 3,100 TRIO projects currently serve close to 812,000 low-income Americans.

Mainly postsecondary schools – including community colleges – and secondary schools receive the competitive grants, as well as public and private agencies and organizations that serve disadvantaged youth. Teams of schools, agencies and organizations also can apply for the grants.

About the Author

Laurie Quarles
is a legislative resource associate at the American Association of Community Colleges.