Friday, February 24, 2006

I've Learned To Expect This

In the latest round of education-related budget cuts, the federal government is now going after Upward Bound:
Upward Bound is a federally financed program to get more low-income students through high school and into college. If they make it, most of them will be the first in their immediate family to go to college.

Critics say that the program fails to show that it works and that most of these students would be headed toward college regardless.

Supporters swear by it. They point to the college tours that Upward Bound students go on, the financial-aid workshops, the SAT preparation, the afternoon tutoring sessions and the summer programs. All these activities, they say, help students from families in which there is little history of getting into and succeeding in college.

This isn't the first year that supporters -have had to make their case.

Everyone seems tired of the debate.

"I think the way for them to save the programs is for them to prove their effectiveness," said U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th. "So they don't keep going through battle every year and we don't."

Foxx and other federal legislators say that Upward Bound and other education programs geared to push high-school students into college will probably live another year.

Foxx says she wants to see every program undergo evaluations that prove that students are going on to college and graduating.

That position is reflected in an amendment that she made to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act last year, she said. The act is still stalled in Congress, but Foxx said that the evaluation requirement could be tagged onto the budget.

"I think the programs need to pay attention to the fact that the president is suggesting that they be cut because they cannot prove their effect," she said. "I think they need to come to grips with the fact that every federal program that gets money need to prove their worth. That's just the way it should be."

Foxx oversaw Appalachian State University's Upward Bound program in the early 1970s "and I know that it was very effective," she said. "I believe that some of these programs are effective. However, they can't prove it."

Upward Bound supporters say they can.

Ninety-one percent of students who complete Upward Bound go on to college, compared with 41 percent of high-school graduates from all low-income families, said Susan Trebach, a spokeswoman for the Council for Opportunity in Education, a national lobbying organization that supports such federal higher-education programs as Upward Bound.

The U.S. Department of Education collects annual reports on Upward Bound but "for the most part does not publish the results," Trebach said.

"So we have a lot of information, but not all of it, especially the positive parts, ever sees the light of day," she said.

Upward Bound is just one of many education initiatives on the chopping block in the Bush administration's proposed 2007 budget.

GEAR-UP and Talent Search, programs which also attempt to help middle- and high-school students graduate and go on to college, are also supposed to be cut.

But Upward Bound is also one of the biggest - the program stands to lose about $311 million. About 61,000 students are enrolled in more than 800 Upward Bound programs across the county.

The program is also one of the oldest focused on low-income students.

Students in Upward Bound must be in high school. Most of them come from poor families. For a family of four, the education department defines low income as having a taxable income of $30,000 a year or less.

Upward Bound was started in 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

In recent years, it has weathered presidents who thought that its money could be used elsewhere.

Upward Bound was scheduled for cutting last year. People who have worked with the program say that federal funding was eliminated in budget drafts through the 1980s and '90s, too.

There are 20 Upward Bound programs in North Carolina, most of them housed at public universities or community colleges. About 100 high-school students in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are enrolled in Winston-Salem State University's program, said Josephine Reid, the program's director.

"If it wasn't for the program, I wouldn't know a lot about college," said Brittney Clinton, a freshman at WSSU who was enrolled in Upward Bound when she was a student at Glenn High School.

She always intended to go to college, but she says that Upward Bound taught her to manage her time and how to balance work and class.

"So when I went in as a freshman, it wasn't hard for me to adjust to it," she said.

The education department says that Upward Bound has been rated "ineffective" in evaluations of government programs. It says that the money would be better used to help reform high school and keep high-risk students on track to graduate.

About 90 percent of the students in the ASU program who graduated from high school between 1995 and 1999 went on to get a bachelor's or an associate's degree, said Chuck Bowling, the director of ASU's program.

At WSSU, about 90 percent of students go on to college, Reid said. She said that about 60 percent of them graduate.

According to Bowling, "We look for a student who has to stay home for the summer and watch her younger brother because that's expected and so she doesn't have any enrichment opportunity.

"These are kids that go home to parents who love but have no idea what to do to support them going to college,"he said. "They don't have that experience. They don't have the street smarts about college."
Isn't it strange that the federal government appears to be eager to cut those programs primarily aimed at helping the children of poor and working parents obtain educational opportunities while continuing to throw away the taxpayers' money on runaway pork barrel spending?

Strange, but not unexpected, given the fact that the poor don't have any high-powered lobbyists in Washington to bribe legislators advocate on their behalf.
See our latest education-related posts right here.