Upward Bound Should Not be Outward Bound from the Budget

10Apr06

Critical Issues in Education

The 2006 proposed budget, as with the proposed budgets of the past few years, includes recommendations to eliminate funding for certain high school after-school programs. Upward Bound, which turned 40 last year, is one of those programs proposed for elimination. We have offered Upward Bound to our students for many years, so our school district needs to closely consider the implications that these budget recommendations have for our school. With many of our students still being potential first generation college graduates, it is important that we, as educators, voice our concerns about the negative impact of the elimination of these programs.

Tracie Powell’s article GEAR UP, TRIO officials mobilize support to save college-access programsPowell, T. (2005, March 24). GEAR UP, TRIO officials mobilize support to save college-access programs. Black Issues in Higher Education 22.3:6(2). is one of several recent articles which look more closely at the Bush administration’s decisions regarding these high school programs designed to improve college access. Powell is against the budget recommendations, but her article also raises several issues which require careful resolution. Powell points out several arguments in favor of elimination of the group of programs to which Upward Bound belongs including a perceived “duplication of services” and a lack of evidence of the educational merit of these programs for improving college access for students. Additionally, Powell notes that while these programs are being eliminated, educational funds will still be made available to states with decisions regarding use of these funds being left to the discretion of the states and school districts.

Is Upward Bound a program that should be cut? Before answering this question directly, we need to clearly distinguish Upward Bound from other outside-of-school-time (OST) programs. Upward Bound was a component of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act enacted just over 40 years ago, an act designed to help the underserved population get increased access to education; the act was recently renamed No Child Left Behind. While there is a range of OST programs from academically oriented programs to sports clubs, Upward Bound targets a specific population of students who come from families where neither parent has completed a college education. During the academic year, there are tutors available for homework help on certain weekdays, and a Saturday academic program that meets bi-weekly. During the summer, Upward Bound students take part in a six-week college immersion program. The principle behind the program is that students coming from these non-college educated families—which are also typically lower-income families—are less likely to enter college or complete a college education, thus making upward socioeconomic and educational mobility a cyclical problem. Unlike other college-access programs like GEAR UP, which work with larger groups or classrooms of students, Upward Bound recruits students based on their individual familial situation. Thus, while the objective may be the same, the approach is quite different.

Through the years of experience, Upward Bound practitioners have noticed—as we have noticed in our classrooms—that education goes beyond a straightforward presentation of materials that need to be learned and includes the development of many social and emotional skills. These are elements which are quite difficult to measure quantitatively, and it is likely that in analyzing the effectiveness of a program like Upward Bound, the qualitative influences are being overlooked. Indeed, with the evolution of learning theories with time, one can observe a growing interest in ideas such as “self-efficacy” (as proposed by Albert Bandura) as a larger determinant for success than, for example, purely academic preparedness. Programs like Upward Bound improve students’ self-efficacy—and even students’ collective-efficacy—by giving students a chance to partake in immersive summer programs at local universities. Students live in dormitories, attend classes taught by graduate students, dine at the campus dining halls, and conduct research at the university libraries. In short, these high-school participants are given a first-hand experience of college life. Succeeding in this environment increases their efficacy, and consequently, the likelihood that completing college after graduating from high school becomes a less foreign idea.

The arguments in favor of elimination of these programs do deserve some consideration. When there is a duplication of services, much needed funds are wasted. However, as noted earlier, the various college-access programs do share common goals, but not common methods. Education, unfortunately, is not a “one-size-fits-all” business, and learners come to classrooms with a huge assortment of skills. The advantage of having more carefully tailored programs compared to fewer broader-goal programs should not be too difficult to see; much in the same way that students would probably learn better if teachers could personalize each child’s education—in other words, specialize the education to that child—increasing the range of program options will lead to higher program specialization. And what about the argument that there is no evidence supporting the need for these programs? First, qualitative reports are valuable and should be fairly considered, especially if the methods of data collection and reporting are thorough and transparent. Second, although these results cannot necessarily be linked directly to program participation, Upward Bound does track their students after graduation, and Powell cites sources as reporting that 90 percent of Upward Bound participants complete a college degree.

Finally, with the proposed elimination of some programs being accompanied by the provision of different educational funds to states and districts, one may be tempted to ask, “Where is the harm in that? Can you not just use the funds to replicate the services if you felt they were important?” Yes… and no. The freedom to use funds as a district sees fit could indeed lead to stronger accountability because of the direct responsibility involved. However, remember that when talking about Upward Bound, we are talking about a program with over 40 years of materialization, transformation, and testing. That is not to say that its mere age makes it worthy of a place in education, but we should also consider, are we at liberty at the moment to sacrifice another 40 years bridging an education gap that seems to expand with each passing year when there is already something established that achieves results? If the qualitative and quantitative reports are producing contradictory results, further independent analysis must be conducted to compare the values the reports are measuring so that more accurate projections can be made.

Reverting to the original question, should Upward Bound be cut? I believe not. I believe that this school’s positive experience with the program should serve as evidence of its merit, and as such, would recommend school personnel to take an active stance supporting this program and others like it through lobbying and educating parents and the community. Grades only tell half the story, especially in cases where the transformations being made are raising failing students’ grades to passing grades; we may not be successfully raising students’ GPAs to a 4.0, but we are observing successes which should be acknowledged. We should, however, also be prepared to take action should Upward Bound be eliminated. By “action” I mean be prepared to find ways to help fill the void created by the elimination of an excellent educational resource. As with any budgetary decisions, the impacts are rarely immediate, but often delayed by one budget cycle. We should use this time to (1) strengthen Upward Bound’s performance as it is a program that needs to constantly adapt to changing demographics, and (2) consider educationally sound practices which can replace Upward Bound should that be the unfortunate reality we face. As much as there are progresses in governmental support for after-school programs at the elementary school level (with increased funding for programs like 21st Century Community Learning Centers), these increases in expenditures should not come at the expense of our underserved high school students.

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One Response to “Upward Bound Should Not be Outward Bound from the Budget”

  1. 1 Alex Mahto

    Send it to Joanne Madison, she would love it! And, of course, Shirvan.


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