Tutoring program at risk of losing funding

Upward Bound program serves 50 students from area school districts

By Elizabeth Sias

For the fifth year, a group of low-income high school students in the Cambridge area are receiving help in becoming first-generation college students.

Sophomore Alexis Neubauer studies after school at Cambridge-Isanti High School as part of the TRiO Upward Bound program. Photos by Elizabeth Sias

Serving 50 students from Cambridge-Isanti, North Branch and Princeton High Schools, Upward Bound is a federally-funded TRiO program through the U.S. Department of Education and hosted by Anoka-Ramsey Community College. The program is designed to help eligible high school students succeed in completing high school and prepare them to go to college.

However, TRiO programs across the country saw a 3.1 percent drop in funding this year, and with the budget cuts at the federal level to services over the next decade, TRiO officials worry the program faces further decreases in financial support — or elimination.

“We’ve been levelly-funded and we’ve taken a 3.1 percent cut, and now in the future, it’s possible that we could be crossed off, and that’s the concern,” said Ryan O’Donovan, director of TRiO Upward Bound at Anoka-Ramsey Community College.

In its final year of a five-year grant, O’Donovan will submit a new grant proposal for Upward Bound offered through the Cambridge campus of Anoka-Ramsey Community College. Staff will find out next spring or summer whether the program will receive funding to continue past August 2012.

Started in 1965, the overarching goal is to help students be successful in and complete college. To qualify for a TRiO program, students must be from a low-income household or neither parent has a four-year degree, giving them the potential to be first-generation college graduates. At least two-thirds of the students must meet both criteria.

“The idea is to help students in our program be college ready as a high schooler and experience the college culture, learn the processes and get on as many college campuses as possible so they can experience that and be ready for college,” O’Donovan said.

Upward Bound consists of three main components. During the school year, students meet twice a week after school for a two-hour tutoring session, the first hour of which includes some sort of instructional piece — skill-building or preparing for college entrance exams, for instance — with the second hour for studying and homework help, Upward Bound Adviser Angie Nastrom explained.

The students also meet one Saturday each month to participate in a college preparation activity, such as visiting a college campus. During the summer, students take classes at ARCC for six weeks, earning them college credits.

“A lot of the kids have heard about PSEO (Post Secondary Enrollment Options), but they don’t really understand what it is, so I like helping them understand that if you’re successful as a ninth- and 10th-grader, you could be taking college-level classes as a junior and you don’t have to pay for it,” Nastrom said.

During the first TRiO Upward Bound tutoring session of the school year, sophomore Austin Moe works on homework at Cambridge-Isanti High School.

In the grant proposal, O’Donovan will make a case for why TRiO Upward Bound should continue to receive funding.

“With a federal program, there’s a strong accountability piece to it because it’s public dollars and you have to show you’re producing results and providing a return to that investment,” he said.

During the 2008-2009 school year, 85 percent of Upward Bound students that graduated from high school enrolled in postsecondary education the fall following graduation. Since its inception, an estimated two million students have graduated from college with the help of a TRiO program.

While pleased the Pell Grant continues to provide financial aid to low income students, O’Donovan said he believes offering programs like TRiO Upward Bound alongside that aid increases the likelihood of those students receiving a college degree.

“What TRiO does is gives that population a much higher chance of success in getting into and completing college by receiving these services,” he said.