What Are the Federal TRIO Programs?

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  • TRIO programs expand financial and educational resources for underserved students.
  • Some programs focus on middle and high school students, while others target college students.
  • These unique programs offer various kinds of assistance, from tutoring to career support.

College campuses are more diverse than ever. And supporting the country's most vulnerable and marginalized students remains an important mission for colleges and universities. Diversity provides many benefits for college students; it exposes them to new perspectives and expands their cultural competence.

Still, racial and class inequities persist on campus. Students of color, especially Black students, experience lower rates of persistence from semester to semester, higher attrition rates, lower salaries, and higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts. And while enrollment rates have risen for first-generation college students, graduation rates have stayed low.

Research shows that if marginalized students have access to academic and financial resources and an on-campus network, their sense of confidence and persistence increases.

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Research shows that if marginalized students have access to academic and financial resources and an on-campus network, their sense of confidence and persistence increases. Many students lack familiarity with the college environment and access to role models who can assist them in navigating the rigors of higher education.

At many colleges and universities, TRIO programs provide career, academic, personal, and professional services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Administered and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, these programs primarily serve low-income, first-generation students and individuals with disabilities.

What Are the Federally Funded TRIO Programs?

TRIO programs came about through the Higher Education Act of 1965, which aimed to strengthen and increase resources for college students. These federal programs not only help bridge the college preparation gap but also expand the academic pipeline from middle school to the graduate level.

While there are eight TRIO programs overall, just seven directly serve students. (The Training Program for Federal TRIO Programs Staff targets university staff and other professionals employed in TRIO programs.) Read on to learn more about how these programs work and how they can benefit students of all levels.

Upward Bound

Focused on providing high schoolers with resources to successfully complete high school and enroll in (and ultimately graduate from) a two- or four-year institution, Upward Bound functions like a college prep program. Usually recruited in ninth or 10th grade, students must plan to attend college after graduating.

Specifically, the program helps high schoolers with SAT/ACT prep, applying to college, finding scholarships, developing study skills, and tutoring, as well as providing students with cultural, social, and recreational programs.

While colleges may maintain their own criteria for participation, federal guidelines stipulate that Upward Bound participants must reside in a household where no parent or guardian has earned a four-year degree and/or have a total family income that falls within the program's federal income guidelines.

Famous Upward Bound alumni include Academy Award-winner Viola Davis and former NBA player Patrick Ewing.

Colleges With Upward Bound Programs

Upward Bound Math-Science

Similar to Upward Bound, but focused on providing students with rigorous math and science training, Upward Bound Math-Science encourages high school students to pursue STEM fields in college. Participants must have completed the eighth grade and be low-income or potential first-generation students.

The program's biggest benefits include advising and counseling services, STEM-focused summer activities, and connections to math and science university faculty.

Studies show that historically disadvantaged students — including students of color, low-income students, and first-generation students — often lack access to STEM role models. This program helps underprivileged students realize their potential, connects them with role models, and gives them the academic and personal tools they need to succeed in college and in STEM careers.

Colleges With Upward Bound Math-Science Programs

Veterans Upward Bound

Focused on providing the academic and personal training veterans need to succeed in higher education, Veterans Upward Bound has been critical in equipping veterans with fundamental life skills and study habits. Many veterans face a difficult transition from military to civilian life, including managing depression, isolation, and adjusting to campus culture.

Some programs help veterans complete a high school equivalency program and gain admission into college programs, while others offer short-term remedial classes to help prepare first-time or returning college students and assist them with applying to college and securing financial aid.

Colleges With Veterans Upward Bound Programs

Talent Search

Providing aid to both middle school and high school students, Talent Search recognizes that supplementary education must start before high school. The program offers college prep, academic, career, and financial counseling, with the goal of equipping historically disadvantaged students with the tools needed to graduate from high school and thrive in college.

Federal eligibility requirements stipulate that two-thirds of participants must be low-income and first-generation college students. More than 312,000 students are currently enrolled in over 470 Talent Search projects.

According to recent data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, 80% of Talent Search participants enrolled in a college or university immediately following high school. One of the program's most notable alumni is Congressman Henry Bonilla.

Colleges With Talent Search Programs

Student Support Services

Targeting first-generation, low-income students and students with disabilities, Student Support Services aims to help students earn their college degrees by offering academic, personal, social, and cultural services.

At community colleges, this program plays a crucial role in preparing students to transfer to a four-year institution for a bachelor's degree. Those who participate in Student Support Services boast higher rates of student retention and transfer, not to mention higher GPAs and credit accumulation.

Program alumni include Franklin Chang-Díaz, the first Hispanic astronaut.

Colleges With Student Support Services Programs

Educational Opportunity Centers

Open to nontraditional students who want to enter or continue higher education, Educational Opportunity Centers primarily serve displaced or underemployed workers. These centers provide literacy around financial aid and financial planning to assist students with securing funding for college.

There are 142 Educational Opportunity Centers in the U.S. serving over 199,000 individuals.

Colleges With Educational Opportunity Centers

Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement

With the goal of increasing attainment of doctorates among historically underrepresented students, the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement program, also known as the McNair Scholars Program, prepares undergraduates to apply to graduate school. Participants gain access to research and scholarly projects and assistance with taking the GRE.

This TRIO program was named after Ronald Erwin McNair, who was a NASA astronaut, a physicist, and the second Black American to fly in space. In 1976, McNair received a doctoral degree in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Colleges With McNair Scholars Programs

How TRIO Programs Help Vulnerable Students

Education is often called a great equalizer, and our country needs a highly educated workforce to retain its economic competitiveness. Yet data continues to stress that our most vulnerable students — students of color, low-income students, first-generation students, and students with disabilities — face significant barriers to entering and completing college.

Federal TRIO programs play an important role in narrowing the achievement gap between affluent and historically disadvantaged students. These programs are free to eligible students and provide them with the social integration and academic preparation they need to succeed in college and beyond.

Feature Image: Ariel Skelley / DigitalVision / Getty Images