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Federal TRIO Programs: A Primer on College Prep for the Underprivileged

By Peterson's Staff updated on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Back in the 1960s, the federal government drew up legislation that became the Economic Opportunity Act and established the first of several federally supported educational outreach programs for underprivileged students wanting to go to college. By the end of the 1960s, three programs were in existence, thus giving birth to the term TRIO.

Now, the federal TRIO programs include eight different programs, each supported by grants from the federal government. While sharing the common mission of furthering higher education for disadvantaged students, each program has its own unique focus. Together, the TRIO programs offer support to students from a variety of different backgrounds, and are not limited to providing support only to high school students.

TRIO programs remain strong today, thanks in part to legislation passed in 1998 and 2001 that encourages the proliferation of successful TRIO program models and provides for direct financial assistance to students participating in specific TRIO programs. For students who thought college might have been only a pipe dream, TRIO programs offer hope and support to those interested in securing college admissions.

Programs for youth who want to go to college

The three original TRIO programs probably remain the best known. They began in 1964 with the inception of Upward Bound, which was quickly joined by the Talent Search and then Student Support Services. All three of these programs are directed at middle school and high school students who desire a college education.

Upward Bound
These programs benefit students from low-income families and/or families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree. Upward Bound also serves low-income, first-generation military veterans who want to go to college. Providing "college-prep" instruction in five academic areas (math, lab science, composition, literature, and foreign language), the overall mission is to support and prepare students to go to college by ensuring they are successful in high school. Students in Upward Bound programs receive college planning counseling (academic, financial, and personal), tutoring, mentoring, test prep assistance, aid with their college applications and the college admissions process, and access to volunteer or work/study opportunities that expose them to pre-college career education.

Upward Bound Math and Science
These more academically specific Upward Bound college-prep programs are geared to developing the math and science skills of participating students through year-round counseling, intensive summer enrichment programs in math and science, computer training, and collaboration with university math and science faculty members on guided research projects. Their purpose remains the same as the other Upward Bound programs—to encourage success in high school and subsequent enrollment in postsecondary education.

Talent Search
The primary purpose of the Talent Search program is to reduce the high-school-dropout rates of disadvantaged students while simultaneously increasing college-enrollment rates of those wanting to get into college. Talent Search programs actively seek out disadvantaged students with an identified potential to succeed in high school and then provide them with academic, career, and financial counseling. Programs also assist on a number of other aspects of college planning/college prep: preparation for college entrance exams, mentoring, obtaining financial aid, visiting college campuses, and applying to college.

Student Support Services (SSS)
Just as the Talent Search programs seek to increase high school graduation rates, SSS seeks to increase college retention and graduation rates. For disadvantaged students who successfully get into college, the assistance and mentoring provided through Student Support Services is designed to ensure that their success continues all the way through graduation. Students build a solid college plan, are provided tutoring to help them complete basic college requirements, and, as needed, other academic course work, and to help them develop good study skills. They are also provided with counseling, assistance with applying for and obtaining financial aid, mentoring, and additional services for students less-than-proficient in English. Under some circumstances, students may also receive direct financial assistance through SSS grants.

Separate services exist for adults as well. Services may include aspects of the Upward Bound and SSS programs, depending on a student's particular circumstances. Students who want to go to college and are interested in college prep can find out more about these programs by visiting the government Web site at www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/trio/index.html.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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