Penn State awarded grant for Upward Bound programs

June 26, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Penn State nearly $4 million to make higher education more accessible to students in the Commonwealth. Penn State’s Upward Bound program, which addresses the vast educational needs of eligible high school students in rural central Pennsylvania, has received a grant of $2.4 million for the next five years. In addition, Penn State also has been awarded a $1.25 million grant for a new Upward Bound program that provides similar services to students with migrant farmer backgrounds.

“These grants are critical. They allow students from economically challenged backgrounds an opportunity to go to college; oftentimes, they are the first from their family to do so,” said Marcus Whitehurst, assistant vice provost for Educational Equity at Penn State. “This is just one part of our diversity initiatives. Upward Bound Programs are helping balance inequalities that exist across the Commonwealth.”

Mickey Lynn Bellet, director of the TRiO Upward Bound program at Penn State, said the office has been on campus since 1968. Every five years the office applies for a federal grant to continue to provide low-income and/or first-generation college-bound high school students with the academic resources needed to prepare for college. Those resources include tutoring students so they maintain a high GPA, support for SAT prep courses and study materials and information about college applications, financial aid and other particulars needed for college entrance. The program also offers students an intensive six-week residential program at University Park to provide them a college experience while preparing them for postsecondary success.

Six school districts in central Pennsylvania are supported by Penn State’s efforts: Mifflin County, Moshannon Valley, Mount Union, Newport, Steelton-Highspire and West Branch. These districts were chosen because they have high secondary school dropout rates, student/counselor ratios and poverty rates as well as low achievement test scores. Median family incomes in the targeted school districts fall well below state and national averages. Upward Bound guidance counselors from each area help identify students from disadvantaged backgrounds that show academic potential. The grant helps 116 high school students pursue a college degree.

“This is a precollege program. When they enroll we are not recruiting for Penn State, though many apply and go to several of our campuses throughout the state,” said Whitehurst. “And we do maintain a relationship with them even after they graduate from high school, and offer them support throughout their college careers, wherever they attend.”

Penn State's second Upward Bound grant is the only new award in the Commonwealth in a difficult federal funding cycle. The Upward Bound Migrant grant has been funded to low-income and first-generation college-bound migrant students. Eligibility, Whitehurst said, is based on several criteria. In addition to following Upward Bound eligibility regulations, which require participants to come from low-income and first-generation college-bound backgrounds, high school students from Hazleton, Reading and Lebanon (areas of the state with the large migrant populations) are eligible for the program if they are “a child who has not graduated from high school or does not hold a GED, if the child is a migrant worker or has a parent, spouse or guardian who is a migrant worker, if the child has moved for economic necessity within the preceding 36 months in order to obtain employment or accompany a parent, spouse or guardian in seeking temporary or season employment in agricultural or fishing work and this child has moved from one school district to another,” he said.

He added that these students have the highest priority for entrance in the program, followed by students with a less recent migrant history.

While the Upward Bound Migrant program is new this year, Bellet conducts annual performance reviews to prove the efficacy of the University's established Upward Bound program. She said that on average the percentage of Upward Bound students entering postsecondary education immediately after high school is 70 percent. That exceeds each of the six high school’s college-going rates by 15 percent. And of that 70 percent who go to college, 80 percent of them are still in college in their second year.

In addition to the performance evaluations, TRiO experts from outside the program also conduct an annual evaluation to ensure the program achieves its highest possible outcomes.

“This program can be life-changing for students enrolled,” said Whitehurst. “It breaks the cycle in their family of not going to college and gives them a leverage to be successful that they’ve never had before.”


  • High schools students enrolled in Penn State's Upward Bound program learn about leadership and team building.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated June 26, 2012