By Jeff Noble / Staff writer
For many years, students in Union College’s Upward Bound program would finish their summer session with a week-long trip.
This year’s visit to Maine was especially sad for both students and their chaperones, because it’s one of the final chapters at the closing of the Barbourville school’s 32-year-old program.
The last day for Upward Bound at Union is this Wednesday, Aug. 1.
A letter sent to the college earlier this summer by Upward Bound in Washington told officials that Union was ineligible for grant money to fund their program.
Union’s Upward Bound director, Dr. Sarah Hendrix, remembers it well.
“The letter said they funded 780 applications. There were 1,299 applicants who were considered eligible, and they may have had considered even more applicants. If all 1,299 were funded, it would come up to a total of $398 million. This year, only $254 million in funds were available. The letter stated there was less money to go around. And we weren’t on the list,” Hendrix said in an interview last Wednesday.
For the upcoming school year, 13 colleges in Kentucky made the list. Union, along with other colleges, such as Berea College and Southeast Community College in Cumberland, did not.
A year earlier, Union did made the list, getting $336,789 in federal grants, which provided base funding for 75 persons participating in the program. Union was one of 24 Kentucky schools on the list for Fiscal Year 2011. The total funding allocation last year was $305, 387,247, with 951 grants awarded.
Competition for Upward Bound grants are held every four years, with all grants funded for five-year grant award cycles. The program does not require matching funds or cost sharing.
“The money is from competitive grants, which is based on a competitive scoring process, which each institution applies for on their own merit. Everybody’s vying for those grant dollars,” said Danielle Smoot, Communications Director for 5th District U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers in an interview Wednesday.
Hendrix feels the current administration in Washington is taking some of the TRIO program money, which Upward Bound is a a part of, and shifting it away from rural areas to what she called “untested programs.”
“They’re taking the money away from tried and true programs like ours and putting them elsewhere. A lot of rural schools were left out this time, like in eastern Kentucky and at LMU (Lincoln Memorial University) across the border in Tennessee. It involves the Appalachian region, where we have unique issues and unique strengths. They’re losing out as a result…That’s a shame. The students will suffer the most,” Hendrix stated.
According to Congressman Rogers’ office in Somerset, Smoot said Rogers discovered the people who have the Upward Bound money — the U. S. Department of Education — gave priority to persistently low-achieving schools, primarily in urban areas. He also joined several colleagues in Congress by signing a letter to Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, expressing his dismay on the decision to deny funding for Upward Bound programs in southern and eastern Kentucky.
Rogers said in a statement, “In the face of budget cuts, our schools are facing more intense competition for grant dollars for important programs like Upward Bound. Even after increasing funding this year, I am deeply concerned and disappointed that the U. S. Department of Education prioritized funding for programs in urban areas, disregarding successful programs in rural areas. I joined my colleagues in signing a letter to the Secretary of Education…letting him know how this decision hurts one of the most impoverished regions in the nation, by cutting out legacy programs like Upward Bound at Union College.”
Times were tight for the school’s Upward Bound program even before the funding was denied this summer. Last year, Hendrix said funding went back to the 2007 levels, which put some stress and strain to the program recently.
“We had to take a three percent cut on top of that. We had to scrimp to make the trip this summer. We were staying in dorms that were not air-conditioned, and watching our budget,” she said of the group’s trip earlier this month, which included stops at the University of New England in Portland, Maine and Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.
A total of 48 students made the trip. They met with and worked together alongside Upward Bound students from the University of Southern Maine in the state’s largest city, Portland. Many of them became fast friends on Facebook. And they shared a common bond, according to Hendrix.
“We wanted our students to understand that there are first-generation kids everywhere working toward the goal of college,” she said.
Like Union’s Upward Bound program, the Southern Maine program is also ending, for the same reason.
“These were kids from Maine who were meeting the same criteria we had. They have a lot of rural issues like we do, such as poverty, drugs and transportation. And they lost their funding, too,” Hendrix noted.
Founded in 1963, Upward Bound helps students from low-income families, or those students where neither parent has a college degree, get through their high school years and into college. The four-year program is one of eight federal TRIO outreach and student service programs which identify and provide services for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program provides students with access to educational opportunities, increases the number of students who go on to college and helps those participating students develop skills to improve their lives.
Union’s Upward Bound program began in 1980. This year, it had 75 students in the program, coming from five schools in four counties. Lynn Camp, Barbourville and Knox Central High Schools are represented in Knox County, while Clay County, Leslie County, Owsley County and Red Bird High School in Clay County also participate.
The program had two “components” with one during the academic year, where Upward Bound tutors-advisors and the Coordinator, Dee Crescitelli, visited each of the seven schools on a weekly basis. Students attended workshops on careers, study skills and building self-esteem, in an effort to improve their academic and personal well-being. They also attended a meeting one Saturday of the month to expose them to history, the arts and other subjects.
The other component was held in the summer for six weeks on the Union campus, where students attended classes, counseling sessions and staff activities. The idea was to simulate the college experience for the students, with a week-long trip during the final week.
In previous years, Union’s Upward Bound students spent time in Washington, DC; historic Williamsburg, Va; the Philadelphia-Baltimore region and Chicago. This year, that trip was “down east” to Maine, in the nation’s New England region.
Hendrix said the decision to end funding can’t be based on the Upward Bound’s success at Union.
“Our program had 14 seniors this year, and all were accepted into post-secondary education. Last year, we had 12 seniors, and they too were accepted. We start with them when they’re in the 9th Grade, and we carry them through…The kids were really dedicated. They’re out there working, studying and committed to the program. At Union, Upward Bound does work,” she pointed out.
But the shockwaves from the program’s ending continues to reverberate across the school, the area it serves, and the people who know it best.
“It’s an amazing program with amazing kids, but they also have tremendous challenges. Upward Bound gives students a means to recognize their potential. Sadly, this action will leave a void in academic services for many years to come,” stated Crescitelli, who also made the trip with the students to Maine.
Union’s President, Dr. Marcia Hawkins, commented, “The impact of losing our Upward Bound program extends well beyond Union College. The alumni base is impressive, consisting of college graduates who completed the program to later become productive citizens and leaders who support the importance of secondary education. Union remains committed to serving the education needs of at-risk students and empowering them to see success in their future. The economic growth of our state depends on it.”
And there was this from an Upward Bound alumnus, Brian Strunk. In a telephone interview recently, he spoke highly of instructors at Union who were committed to their work in teaching and reaching eager minds.
“It was a passion of mine. I was a Union College student from 2005 to 2009, and I was in Upward Bound. I was a little upset (hearing about the program’s ending) because I invested a lot of time in the program and with the kids,” said Strunk, now a law student who lives in Louisville and keeps in touch with former Upward Bound students and staff at Union.
Hendrix said the success of the program has been far-reaching, serving thousands of students over four decades.
‘The stories of Upward Bound alumni are testament the economic and social strength of the program’s outcomes. Only eight percent of southeast Kentucky high school students graduate from college as compared to nearly 50 percent across the country. For the past two years, 100 percent of Union’s UB students entered post-secondary education…It’s a program with measurable outcomes resulting in transformed lives…It’s also inevitable that the non-renewal of multiple programs in the region will be felt across our region,” she noted.
Could the program come back? Hendrix says it could be resurrected.
“We wrote for an Upward Bound math and science grant recently. Dee (Crescitelli) and Diana Mills of the college wrote the grant, and we hope to get this in the fall of 2013. And if we have the chance to bring back the program, we have the information available in the Upward Bound files to restart it. We also have the students, the support of the (school’s) Education Department, and most of all, the desire,” she said.
Earlier this month, the Upward Bound program and Union College paid tribute to those who were a part of that desire, by hosting a reunion for former UB students, as well as their parents and teachers. Several of them told how the program changed their lives.
Two of them — Joyce Achenjang and Juleda Hyde — were recognized at the reunion. Achenjang, a graduate of the University of Kentucky, will start medical school at UK this fall.
Hyde, a Union graduate, plans to obtain her Master’s Degree this fall at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Hyde was also a Upward Bound counselor at Union this summer.
The school plans to appeal the decision not to fund Upward Bound. They’ve also written to Congressman Rogers’ office, asking for their help in keeping the program alive.
But like a good trip with wonderful times and memorable people that’s all coming to an end, so are the last days of Union’s Upward Bound program.
Those making the trip back from Maine last week knew the one-week trip would finish their summer session. Reluctantly for those aboard, it would also be part of a finish to a program they completely put their hearts and souls into.
“People didn’t get emotional until we pulled into the parking lot at the college last Friday night at 10:30. Then they burst into tears. Guys and gals, the students and chaperones. We truly understood what a loss it would be, and it is to this region. And especially to the Upward Bound students,” Hendrix said.