Biden Admin Expands TRIO Eligibility to Undocumented Students

The approved TRIO expansion applies to high schoolers in need of college prep resources.
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Published on March 6, 2024
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  • The Department of Education is expanding TRIO program eligibility to undocumented students.
  • The expansion only applies to TRIO programs aimed at helping students enroll in college.
  • Some stakeholders hope future expansions will also include TRIO programs for college students.

The Biden administration will soon expand the availability of college prep programs to non-U.S. citizens, including undocumented students.

The Department of Education (ED) and other higher education stakeholders approved a proposal March 5 that would open some federal TRIO programs to people who are not U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or U.S. nationals. Students need only be enrolled in a U.S. high school to qualify for any of the three TRIO programs included in the regulations.

The TRIO programs included in the proposal were:

  • Talent Search
  • Educational Opportunity Centers
  • Upward Bound

While some TRIO programs provide financial assistance to college students from historically underrepresented backgrounds who are attending colleges and universities in the U.S., the approved changes only apply to TRIO programs aimed at enrolling these students into college in the first place.

Nonetheless, negotiators who co-approved the proposal called it an important step in improving college access for noncitizen students.

"This is a pivotal moment for TRIO and the students that stand to benefit from gaining access to this life-changing support through these programs," Magin Sanchez, a representative for civil rights organizations, said during discussions.

Some negotiators, however, questioned why ED did not extend the proposal to cover TRIO programs aimed at helping college students.

Aaron Washington, a representative from the department, said that ED did not feel it had the legal authority to do so. The department's proposal stemmed from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision centered on K-12 students who are undocumented, but ED did not want to stretch the interpretation to college students, too.

Still, Sanchez said he'd like to see ED tackle collegiate TRIO programs eventually.

Upward Bound and Talent Search both aim to teach high school students about federal financial aid programs in hopes of getting them to enroll in college. They also provide tutoring to ensure students can graduate high school so that they can pursue a postsecondary degree.

The Educational Opportunity Centers program, meanwhile, provides counseling and admissions information to qualified adults seeking to apply to colleges or re-enroll in a program.