TRIO programs, which aim to help low-income students, first-generation students, and those with disabilities get to college, are grappling with a 5.23 percent budget cut thanks to sequestration, which will mean reduced services, staff, and students served, according to a recent survey.
The Council for Opportunity in Education got survey responses from 104 TRIO program directors for 95 different projects in Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and Maryland. When asked how they are planning to deal with the budget cuts, more than half said they will reduce or eliminate services for students. Forty-six percent said they will also reduce the number of students that they serve. Meanwhile, 60 percent say they will cut back on staff to cope.
These programs are effective, however. One in Iowa reports that 96 percent of students in TRIO programs stay in school and 88 percent graduate, versus 45 percent and 67 percent, respectively, for students who don’t get the support services.
Kentucky’s cuts are perhaps particularly troubling given the high rates of poverty and low rates of educational attainment in the state. The state is home to two of the top 10 counties in the country with the highest percentages of populations living in poverty. Meanwhile, a third of the population has just a high school degree, with just 12.3 percent attaining a Bachelor’s and 8.4 percent getting a graduate or professional degree. Twenty percent have taken some college courses but haven’t completed a degree.
But the state is planning big cuts to the programs meant to help its low-income population get a higher degree. There are 65 TRIO programs in Kentucky, which serve more than 20,000 students, but 45 percent are planning to drop the number of students they serve, three-quarters will reduce or eliminate services altogether, and more than half will cut staff positions.
One Kentucky program explains why these cuts will be so brutal. “Our program is very successful in our work,” one director said in the survey, “with a graduation rate of close to 99 percent and a college going rate close to 80 percent.” But it has seen its operating budget fall from over $30,000 to less than $10,000. “I have asked my staff to do much more with less,” the director says.
Sequestration has hammered the education system in other ways. Schools on or near military bases and Native American reservations were hit immediately thanks to a cut in Impact Aid, which meant that 31 cut staff, 11 cut transportation services, seven cut course offerings, and eight cut extra-curricular activities. Two school districts had to completely close schools. Head Start has also been battered by budget cuts, which has meant more than 57,000 low-income preschoolers losing their slots. All public schools are now feeling the pinch in the new school year. Half of the country’s school districts have fired personnel, nearly half increased class sizes, about 60 percent reduced professional development, and about 45 percent have delayed buying new technology.