According to Marietta Wheeler, an alumna from 1997-1999, Upward Bound changed her life.
“Being part of UB, where I spent high school summers, was sometimes difficult, but it allowed me an escape from the disappointments and hardships that I experienced in my home life at the time. In the process, I learned to strive for more.”
Now a mother, Wheeler wishes her sons could experience Upward Bound, but says, “Unfortunately, for them, but fortunately for me, they aren’t eligible because the program worked the way it was supposed to by assisting me, someone from an economically deprived background, to better myself by getting a college education.”
Wheeler graduated from the University of Maine Augusta in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a concentration in small business.
She is now a senior auditor in the state Department of Audit, on her way toward a further degree and preparing to become a certified internal auditor (CIA).
Her story is far from unique. Graduates’ education and career paths have varied greatly, but all of them maintain that Upward Bound was life-changing for them.
Nationally, Upward Bound, founded during the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, is celebrating its 48th anniversary this year.
It is one of eight TRIO programs, all meant to provide academic support and guidance to motivate high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds to become the first generation in their families to complete a post-secondary education.
Other TRIO programs include Talent Search, Education Opportunity Centers, Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement and Student Support Services.
Maine is host to 21 TRIO programs, including eight Upward Bound programs at University of Maine campuses and at Bowdoin College. TRIO awards are made through a U.S. Department of Education competitive grant process.
So what does Upward Bound entail? The Bowdoin program currently partners with 11 Maine high schools and admits 45 students each spring to comprise a total of about 107 students who live on campus during summers.
Each student is assigned to a teacher’s assistant and a dorm room, where they meet their roommate. Already they are beginning to experience what it’s like to become a first-year student in a residential college.
Days are full. Each student takes a rigorous core curriculum tiered to their grade level. Lab chemistry or microbiology, math, foreign language and writing/literature are all required.
There are electives offered by inspired college-aged summer residential staff. The mission is to prepare students to improve their grades and increase their interest and confidence in taking courses that will qualify them for college admissions.
In addition, all students participate in career/college exploration seminars, test prep and college trips to campuses around Maine and New England.
Contact with Upward Bounders is continued throughout the academic year with monthly in-school visits.
Staff counselors make certain that students are on track, with the courses and grades necessary for college admission. If academic help is needed, a tutor is found.
Students are reminded to meet deadlines for taking required tests.
Inexperienced parents are given assistance with the daunting task of filling out financial aid forms. Affordability figures strongly in the decisions students and their families must make.
Additionally, veteran Upward Bounders who have graduated from high school and have been admitted to a post-secondary institution for the fall can apply to spend a final six weeks as members of the Bridge program, where they will take two courses, one in writing, where they can earn a college credit, and another in art history, for which writing a college-level research paper is required.
Like the large percentage of the general population, many Upward Bound graduates require more than four years to complete their degrees.
Family matters, health, finances and uncertainty about the debt-to-benefit ratio cause interruptions, but on average, Bowdoin Upward Bound graduates are five times more likely to earn a degree within six years than their peers.
As Congress faces the issue of deep budget cuts, TRIO funding is one of the federal programs on the chopping block. It would be short-sighted to cut college access programs.
Maine, its students and families need them now more than ever.
Ann Pierson retired from Bowdoin College as director of programs in teaching and coordinator for voluntary services emerita. She has taught art history in the Upward Bound Bridge program for 19 years.