As U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, fights for the implementation of an amendment to the College Cost Reduction Act that would restore funding to Upward Bound (UB) programs at universities throughout the nation – including USF, Florida A&M University and the University of Florida – one can’t help wondering: Why did the Department of Education (DOE) cut these funds in the first place?
According to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat, these cuts are tied to two words – “Absolute Priority.” The words title a list of mandates the DOE now requires recipients of UB funding to meet. These mandates include a requirement to recruit only ninth and 10th grade students, a requirement that 1/3 of recruits be at “high risk of academic failure” – defined by the DOE as a student who fails No Child Left Behind tests or has a GPA below 2.5 – and a requirement that programs recruit twice as many students as they can actually provide services for.
Such sweeping changes contain a certain illogic in their own right, but are especially baffling in that they are intended to modify a program that has existed for nearly 40 years without significant alteration. The UB program was implemented in 1968 “to motivate and prepare” low-income students for college as part of the War on Poverty. With one exception, these new mandates do nothing to improve that effort.
Even that exception – the mandate to recruit only ninth and 10th grade students – is questionable. Though the program is likely more effective to those that spend the most years in it, barring 11th graders the program formerly admitted seems limiting, as many students first become serious about college at this grade level.
The remaining mandates don’t even manage to have questionable value. Requiring programs to recruit a large percentage of “high risk” students limits available space for low-income students who are striving and succeeding academically, but may still need assistance in attaining higher education.
Meanwhile, the requirement for programs to recruit twice as many students as they can actually serve is nearly inhuman – its intent is to allow federal evaluators to compare the success of those rejected from the program for space reasons to those who are admitted in order to gauge the program’s value. Such maneuvering is simply cruel to hopeful students, no matter how useful the data it provides would be.
Though restoring UB funding to universities that lost it is an admirable goal, it is only a temporary solution. If UB is to be brought back to its original intent, Absolute Priority must be revoked – effective immediately.