Upward Bound faces deficient funds

The federally funded program helps low-income students get into college.

by James Schlemmer

Cy Thao joined the Upward Bound Program in 1987 to get a $3 movie ticket for completing his homework.

Now Thao is a Minnesota state representative and said the move turned out to be one of the best investments he ever made because it helped him get into college.

“Someone like me needed that. To go through the process,” he said. “I wasn’t even thinking about college, not even in the back of my mind.”

Upward Bound began helping disadvantaged high school students get into college in 1965.

However, Upward Bound Academic Coordinator Anna Resele said the program is gradually falling behind because it has received flat funding for the last three years.

The program came along with other similar groups during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement. However, many of the other groups have disbanded over the last 40 years.

According to Upward Bound Director Aloida Zaragoza, their program is different than others during that time.

“It has succeeded because it hasn’t been race-based,” she said. “We are for low-income students.”

Upward Bound is a TRiO program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The program is designed to help students become accustomed to a college lifestyle through tutoring and support groups on campus. Students also get assistance with the college application process.

Upward Bound is a nationwide program, and the program at the University serves ninth- through 12th-graders from Minneapolis Edison, North and South high schools.

Edison senior Thong Lor said college wasn’t something he considered until Upward Bound came to his freshman civics class.

“I didn’t know anything about college. I didn’t know how it worked or how to get in,” he said. “I didn’t think it would have a big impact on my life.”

Resele said the program suffered financially after the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act. Before 2007, President Bush didn’t include the program in the budget.

Resele said the program continues to receive funding because the U.S. Senate values the TRiO programs.

Zaragoza said she isn’t happy with the flat funding.

“Some would like us to believe we should be grateful that we still exist,” she said. “But we think it’s more that the president wasn’t successful in eliminating us.”

Upward Bound has received $313.6 million annually for the past three years at a national level. Zaragoza said the University program receives about $5,000 per student and has 113 students currently in the program.

That amount isn’t enough, Resele said, because technology advancements and textbook costs drive up the budget.

Thao participated in Upward Bound as a student at North High School. He said improved funding for programs like Upward Bound isn’t talked about during legislative sessions because it’s “not on the radar screen.”

“It’s a complex issue – everyone wants money,” he said. “It’s not just Upward Bound, but regular college kids have had tuition go up very high as well.”

Thao said he continues to advocate the cause because he believes the program can impact many lives. He said the challenge of being the first in a family to attend college is a tough one.

“These kids have potential, but because of financial issues and having no mentors, they don’t end up going to college,” he said. “For an average kid it’s no big deal, but to these kids, it can be a very daunting task.”

One of the most appealing parts of the program for the students is the summer academic and residential program, which gives them a chance to live on campus and take college-level courses.

Benson Crawford, a North High junior, said there is nothing like actually experiencing college life.

“It’s a lot better than being in my house. It’s like freedom,” he said. “It tells you that you’re on your own.”

Zaragoza said she doesn’t think students should be penalized for not having the same opportunities.

“As a society, we have a responsibility that all citizens have access to education opportunities,” she said. “We can’t control which parents we are born to.”

Zaragoza also said she hopes the University’s aim of being a top-three research University in the world won’t “close the door” on these students.

“It’s a small price to pay to have more individuals becoming tax-paying members of society,” she said. “Tell me if $5,000 is worth it.”

First-year Edison High School student Khalid Khalil said he joined Upward Board so that he wouldn’t fall into the wrong crowd.

“I want to satisfy my parents and have a good career,” he said. “I don’t want to flip burgers for a living.”

Khalil said if funding is cut, it will hurt everybody.

“You’ll eventually have poor workers in the future,” he said. “We’re the future.”