Among the university’s cutbacks this year, another administrative decision has triggered dismay. University administrators have decided not to renew the federal grant that funds USF’s Upward Bound chapter, a college preparatory program for high school students. The program is set to expire fall 2012.
Upward Bound is one of eight programs under the U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO umbrella of outreach and student services. Introduced in 1964 as part of the Economic Opportunity Act, the program supports first generation and low-income high school students who are interested in post-secondary education. The program offers after-school tutoring, college application assistance, and an intensive summer residency program.
Walt Gmelch, dean of the School of Education who was responsible for the decision, said the motivations were not budget-related.
It was an “issue of facilities and of the campus being maximized for increased demand in student programs,” citing that “maybe out of 190 recent [USF] Upward Bound students, only about three have gone to USF.”
Gmelch said it was impractical to continue hosting such a project “when we have demands to supply our own students with facilities for things like summer session classes.”
Upward Bound offices are housed in the Underhill building on the Lone Mountain campus, sharing a building with the ROTC program.
USF President Stephen A. Privett, S.J. was part of the university leadership who decided to let the contract expire. He said, “from my perspective, our primary responsibility is to our students and their education. We need more space for our own programs and can no longer afford to house programs that do not directly serve our educational mission.”
The choice has been met with significant resistance by Upward Bound’s USF director, Janice Dirden-Cook, and various tutors, student volunteers, and alumni of the program. When Cook, who has served as director since 1985, was notified of the non-renewal in early November, she was especially alarmed.
In November, Cook wrote the School of Education dean after she was notified in writing of USF’s plans.
“It is unfortunate that the university selected the removal of Upward Bound in response to space constraints,” she wrote. “The USF Upward Bound project has been the determining factor for thousands of ethnically under-represented, low-income, first-generation students to pursue and complete their college education.”
She went on to write that even though discontinuing to offer the Upward Bound program was the prerogative of the university, the decision is “neither humane nor just.” The project’s removal is also a loss for both USF and Upward Bound.
According to statistics provided by USF’s Upward Bound office, the university’s chapter funding can serve 186 individuals. In 2010, 130 students benefited from USF’s Upward Bound services.
Currently, USF supports two Upward Bound programs: its original “classic” program and Upward Bound Math and Science, for which the university was awarded a contract in 2003 and which focuses on preparing students with aspirations in technically rigorous careers.
In USF’s decision to not renew the funding, Cook said “I’m disappointed with their lack of transparency and the lack of involvement in the decision.” Cook was neither informed nor invited to participate in the decision-making process.
Gmelch said, “there wasn’t really anything for her to decide, because we had to come to the conclusion that, as a university, we had to do this.”
“But you have to understand,” he said, “twenty months is a long time to make a smooth transition. It’s a fair and just timeline.”
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