The bill would permanently prohibit the absurd policy that jeopardized UMaine Presque Isle’s Upward Bound funding in 2017
Washington, D.C.—In an effort to strengthen the federal TRIO Programs and prevent bureaucratic decisions that could prevent first-generation and low-income students from receiving the support they need to pursue higher education, U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the co-chair of the Congressional TRIO Caucus, today introduced the Educational Opportunity and Success Act. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Jon Tester (D-MT) are original cosponsors.
Nationwide, TRIO Programs help ensure that underserved students have equal access to a college education and the support they need to prepare for, succeed in, and graduate from higher education. There are currently 28 TRIO Programs in Maine that serve 7,415 students, up from 6,690 in 2007. The Educational Opportunity and Success Act would reauthorize the TRIO Programs, eliminate several onerous and unnecessary requirements, and institute commonsense reforms to make it easier for educational institutions to reach students who would benefit from these programs.
One of the provisions in Senator Collins’ bill would permanently prevent the situation the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI) faced in 2017 when the Department of Education threatened to deny its application for Upward Bound due to a minor formatting issue. Senator Collins successfully urged the Department of Education to reverse its decision, protecting funding for UMPI.
“Congress created the TRIO Programs because it recognized that low-income, first-generation students often face significant financial and societal obstacles to accessing and achieving success in higher education,” said Senator Collins. “I have long supported the TRIO Programs and worked to ensure that they are reaching the students who most need them. So many students in Maine and across the country have benefited from the life-changing academic and supportive services that these programs provide. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation to strengthen TRIO.”
“Senator Collins has been a true champion of TRIO Programs, listening to our concerns, speaking with our students, and removing obstacles to at-risk students pursuing education. The purpose of TRIO programs is to remove barriers to education for low-income students, yet they often face additional hurdles and embarrassment in having to prove yet again that they are below the income threshold required to receive TRIO services. They lose valuable time as they and their parents chase paperwork and file federal forms affirming financial hardship, and they become further discouraged with the educational system,” said Mary Kate Barbosa, President of the Maine Educational Opportunity Association and Director of TRIO Student Support Services at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. “By updating and streamlining low-income eligibility criteria and standards, TRIO programs in Maine and across the country will be able to able to serve qualified students immediately and guide them through the academic pipeline from middle school to graduate school.”
The Educational Opportunity and Success Act would:
- Reauthorize funds for the TRIO Programs through 2025.
- Establish more reasonable guidelines for notice of pending grant competitions.
The bill would require the Department of Education to increase its notification period from 45 days to 90 days to help ensure that all prospective TRIO grant applicants have an adequate opportunity to submit a successful application.
- Remove administrative burdens to ease and update the application process.
The bill would direct that applications denied in error be funded directly out of funds reserved for administrative purposes.
- Institute common-sense guidelines for TRIO applications.
The bill would make permanent a new policy that was implemented after the Department of Education attempted to reject dozens of TRIO applications for arbitrary, non-substantive formatting criteria, such as font size and line spacing, in 2017. It would also institute a straightforward appeals process for minor errors.
- Ease administrative burdens in determining income eligibility.
The bill would allow TRIO administrators to work with colleges’ financial aid offices to more easily identify potential participants by virtue of their Pell-eligibility. Meanwhile, in middle and high schools, TRIO’s Talent Search and Educational Opportunity Centers programs would have the ability to serve all students at schools where more than 40 percent of attendees receive free or reduced-price lunch.
- Update TRIO eligibility criteria to reflect the most recent FAFSA requirements.
The bill would ensure that TRIO administrators do not have to consult multiple sources of data, but rather may use students’ most recently completed FAFSA to determine program eligibility.
- Require virtual training to reach more applicants.
The bill would require at least one virtual, interactive training for interested applicants, better ensuring that all areas of the country have the chance to access the TRIO programs.