Recognizing TRIO’s 50 Years: Bringing Educators Together

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Higher Education Act of 1965, which provided educational resources and financial assistance to students seeking a postsecondary education. Part of the HEA included the Federal TRIO Programs, designed to educate students from low-income backgrounds, first-generation college students, and students with disabilities who faced difficulties advancing from K-12 through higher education. The program reflects a community-wide effort to provide services to  students facing unique educational challenges. TRIO’s enduring service is a credit to the cooperation and collaboration of government, higher-ed institutions, high schools, counselors, teachers, mentors and students.


Damian Ramsey (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Damian Ramsey, a TRIO alumnus, was raised by a single parent who struggled to provide for a family of four in a Massachusetts neighborhood surrounded by gangs, drugs, and prostitution. His exposure to this toxic environment led to his struggle in school, he says.  The odds were against him, but as he noted, “demography doesn’t define destiny.”

During high school, Ramsey enrolled in the Upward Bound Program, a part of TRIO, which provided postsecondary assistance, exposure to college and information about higher education. The program’s partnership with Clark University  allowed him to receive SAT prep courses, college essay workshops, summer courses, and academic advice. He also went on university tours, experienced on-campus living and dining arrangements, and gained exposure to campus facilities.

Ramsey graduated from Brown University in 2007 and earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. He credits Upward Bound for developing “confidence and self-assurance within the world of academia” at a young age.

In addition to serving high school students, TRIO programs also assist higher-ed students and veterans. As a single parent of two facing financial woes, Pamela McPeak was about to drop out of Bluefield State College and work as cashier.


Pamela McPeak (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Because McPeak was a former National Guard member, however, her counselor was able to waive her tuition. She was also advised to participate in Student Support Services (SSS), a TRIO program. McPeak credits SSS for providing assistance with “social service resources, financial aid, the college examination program, and class scheduling.” TRIO’s encouragement motivated her to graduate with a degree in education, work as a professor, and  eventually become the Director/Coordinator of the Upward Bound Program at Concord University.

Like these and many other examples, TRIO has changed so many lives over the years by motivating students to overcome their personal challenges and seek a promising education and career. The collective efforts of educators have led to the program’s impact in the past 50 years, and serves as a foundation for success well into the future.

On Aug. 21, Department of Education will honor TRIO’s 50 Year Anniversary by hosting a symposium entitled, Celebrating 50 Years of Promoting Excellence by Providing Hope and Opportunity for Success.  To join Secretary Duncan and other education leaders in this celebration you can tune in to the livestream at or join us on Twitter using the hashtag #TRIO50. The program will run from 9am – 12pm  EDT.

Edgar Estrada is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, and a student at the University of California, Irvine.

Engineering Education: The U.S. Department of Education Releases Innovative Initiatives

The Department of Education (ED) has announced a new round of experimental sites, or ex-sites, to provide flexibility to design programs that serve students better.  The new ex-sites will promote competency-based education (CBE), as well as prior learning assessments and near-peer counseling among college and high school students.  Ex-sites give institutions the ability to be more creative about ways they can reduce costs and increase success in higher education.

Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, said in a video, “To help more Americans succeed – and position our nation to lead – in the years ahead, we need to give students better, faster, more flexible paths to strong academic and career outcomes.”

The Department has had the ex-sites authority since 1992, and last summer, President Obama challenged us to think about how we could use ex-sites to increase innovation in higher education, including through CBE models that make it possible for students to get financial aid based on how much they learn, rather than the amount of time they spend in class. ED put out a request for information last December, asking institutions to send us their ideas about which statutory and regulatory flexibilities would allow them to increase student success.  A range of institutions and other organizations sent in suggestions, which informed the development of this round of experiments.

There are many examples across the country of competency-based programs already serving students, but the new flexibilities ED is providing should allow programs like these to grow with the support of federal student aid.  For example, Western Governors University has long provided students a competency-based program in a wide array of fields.

Southern New Hampshire University was the first to take advantage of a new option called “direct assessment”, which we are making more flexible in this round of ex-sites.  It will allow students to take some classes in the traditional format, while others under the competency-based direct assessment approach.

Other institutions, such as Brandman University in California, the University of Wisconsin system, Capella University, and Lipscomb University in Tennessee have designed new programs that they aim to tailor to work around an individual’s schedule, making them especially feasible to students balancing work and family responsibilities.

By taking down barriers that stand in the way of innovation, we hope to spur more institutions to try new approaches.  Yet at the same time, the flexibilities are coupled with new ways to safeguard federal student aid.    These ex-sites will also have a built-in evaluation component, which will give us insight into the outcomes of these experiments.  We expect that the lessons we learn will inform the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Full details about the ex-sites are available here (and will be published formally in the Federal Register).

Edgar Estrada is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, and a student at the University of California, Irvine.