May 23, 2017
TRIO programs, for more than 50 years, have helped millions of low-income students go from poverty to the middle class by becoming first in their families to earn a college degree. Singling out two of these programs for elimination — the Educational Opportunity Centers and the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Programs — threatens the sustained progress our country has made in helping students from low-income backgrounds to lift themselves, their families, and our economy up through higher education. TRIO programs are more important now than ever because the majority of job openings in our country require education beyond high school.
Both the numbers and the values behind the Trump Administration's proposal to eliminate the two TRIO programs are wrong.
Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement program students are all either both low-income and first generation or Black, Hispanic or American Indian. The McNair program enables them to successfully pursue postgraduate study and, since fewer than 12 percent of all doctorates are awarded to such minorities, the need for the program is clear. Despite this, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney cites a statistic saying that only 6 percent of McNair students earn doctorate degrees. Context is critical here: McNair students typically begin as lower classmen and only about 1 percent of underclassmen in the class of 2005 overall received doctorate degrees by 2015. The McNair program, then, increased these students' odds of earning doctorate degrees six-fold.
Education Opportunity Centers (EOC) target adult learners and, spending just $250 per participant, prepare them to go back into the workforce by arming them with the educational supports necessary to succeed. This past academic year, 35% of EOC students did not have a high school diploma and 77% were first generation and low-income. Given the significant difference in income between high school graduates and those with even one year of college, the small investment on the part of the U.S. taxpayers is returned in short order. Claiming otherwise is not only shortsighted, but betrays a woeful ignorance of the intent of these programs and the good that they have done both for individuals and our country.
These programs have more than proven their value and reflect the best of America's values. Cutting them would not only be short sighted, it would send the message that our government measures the worth of its citizens by the size of their bank accounts rather than their drive, potential, and desire to succeed. That’s never been who we are, and we should not change now.