Though high school graduation in the United States is on an upward trend—with more than 80 percent of students earning their diplomas on time—the rates for disadvantaged students lag behind the national average. Low-income students are about 8 percent less likely to graduate on time, and only half of students in foster care earn their diplomas by the age of 18.
The challenges continue as disadvantaged students complete high school and enroll in college. About a quarter of first-generation students—those whose parents do not have at least a bachelor’s degree—who come from middle-income or high-income families will earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of entering college. That’s about half the rate of students from similar economic backgrounds who have at least one parent who earned a degree. For first-generation students from low-income families, the graduation rate drops to about 1 in 10.
TRIO Programs Provide Education Opportunities for Disadvantaged Students
Since the 1960s, the U.S. Department of Education has developed and expanded the Federal TRIO Programs with the goal of improving secondary, postsecondary, and postbaccalaureate opportunities for disadvantaged students.
TRIO has grown from its three original programs—Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Student Support Services—to seven programs tailored to support students from low-income families, disconnected youth, first-generation college students, and adults, including veterans. These programs provide grants to institutions of higher education, public agencies such as state and local education departments, and other organizations that serve TRIO’s target populations.
Because TRIO directs federal funds to these grantees, its programs are subject to congressional review. Grantees must submit data to the U.S. Department of Education as part of their funding agreements.
Analyzing and Reporting on TRIO Program Impacts and Costs
RTI analyzes student-level and grantee-level data to determine the impact of TRIO’s programs and the cost of TRIO programs per successful participant. Our findings are reported to Congress each year to help inform funding decisions.
The true impact of these education programs is best measured by looking at student success over the long term. As grantees collect and report data each year, we merge those new data with data from previous years by matching student records to create a longitudinal data file. As a result, we are now able to look at 10 years of data for some of the first groups of participants studied, giving leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders an in-depth picture of each program’s performance.
TRIO’s Positive Results Benefit a Variety of Student Populations
Our analysis of the data have shown significant successes and benefits of the suite of TRIO programs. For example,
- Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math-Science work with secondary students from low-income families and from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree—regularly producing combined annual postsecondary enrollment rates between 83 and 86 percent.
- Talent Search, which identifies secondary students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have potential to succeed in higher education, helped more than 79 percent of 2013–2014 college-ready participants enroll in postsecondary education.
- Veterans Upward Bound helps thousands of veterans annually prepare for, enroll in, and succeed at postsecondary education.
- During fiscal year 2013–2014, Educational Opportunity Centers grantees saw about 57 percent of their college-ready adult participants enroll in postsecondary education and provided services to improve the financial and economic literacy of participants.
- Student Support Services, which works directly with institutions of higher education to assist current students with tutoring, course selection, and information on financial aid, regularly demonstrates completion rates above the national average for comparable students at two-year and four-year schools.
- The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement program encourages students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attain Ph.D. degrees by offering research opportunities, internships, academic counseling, tutoring, and other postgraduate assistance. Of the McNair participants who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2010–2011, 71.8 percent enrolled in graduate school within three years.
Through these comprehensive program evaluations, we deliver actionable data to the Department of Education and the education policy community, supporting future decisions on these and other programs aimed at improving education outcomes for low-income students, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities.