Robinson urges Congress to boost TRIO programs


WASHINGTON — University of Arkansas Vice Chancellor Charles Robinson urged Congress to increase support for programs that help low-income, first-generation college students succeed in the classroom.

Robinson testified Tuesday before a House Appropriations subcommittee, asking them to increase federal spending on TRIO programs that last year served nearly 760,000 low-income students, who are among the first in their families seeking a college degree.

The eight programs that make up TRIO received $838.2 million this fiscal year. Robinson urged the panel to increase spending by $52 million in the next fiscal year.

“I have been in higher education for more than two decades and I am convinced our students, our institutions of higher education, our country needs TRIO programs,” Robinson told the panel. “With such a small investment — $838.2 million in fiscal 2014 — we have been able to yield tremendous results that have helped families move out of poverty in a single generation.”

TRIO programs at the University of Arkansas include:

- Talent Search programs that work with middle school and high school students to prepare them for college admissions testing.

- Upward Bound programs that provide high school students with intensive Saturday academies, as well as summer experiences in math and science.

- Veterans Upward Bound that helps returning service members return to the classroom.

- And, on-campus support once TRIO students are attending the university.

Asked about the benefits of the programs, Robinson said that they deliver a bang for the buck.

“Based on statistics we see success at the University of Arkansas,” he said.

The Talent Search program, which has received no funding increase since 2008, was able to serve more than 1,800 low-income students in 32 Northwest Arkansas public schools in 2012. Among those students, 89 percent went on to attend college and 83 percent of them completed their freshman year and are now sophomores, Robinson said.

As the chief diversity officer at the university, Robinson said that he sees the challenges facing “underrepresented students” including poor academic preparation, lack of awareness about college opportunities and family or peer support for higher learning.

“Thankfully, there are programs such as TRIO that create a pipeline from middle school all the way through postgraduate study and provide low-income, first-generation students with the necessary tools to overcome these barriers,” Robinson said.

This was the first time that Robinson has testified before Congress. He was nominated to testify before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Services subcommittee by the D.C.-based Council for Opportunity in Education.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, is vice-chairman of the House appropriations panel.