Three Decades of Success and Counting
The TRIO history can be divided into three decades. The first decade, the decade of the sixties, is the decade of the creation of TRIO. TRIO began, not with the Higher Education Act, but with the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the original War on Poverty statute, which created the Upward Bound program.
That was followed by the original Higher Education Act of 1965, which created the Talent Search program. We then had the first reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, of which we've now had six. The first reauthorization was in 1968, at which time Special Services was created. By 1968, the original TRIO programs had been created - Upward Bound, Talent Search and Special Services. Also in 1968, Upward Bound was transferred out of the Office of Economic Opportunity and into the Higher Education Act.
The second reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1972 created the Educational Opportunity Centers. The 1970s could be called the decade of continued expansion, starting with the creation of the Educational Opportunity Centers in 1972, and then in 1976, with the staff and leadership training authority. By the end of the seventies, most of the programs were in place.
The critical decade for TRIO came in the eighties, which can be characterized as the decade of building permanence of the TRIO programs.
The reauthorization of 1980 was particularly important for the adoption of two key concepts for the TRIO programs: first generation in college and prior performance.
First generation in college is important in defining the eligibility of students for the TRIO programs, because it moved the programs in a more inclusive direction in looking at the origin and the impact of non-financial barriers to access and success in postsecondary education. And politically, it enabled the TRIO program to build a broader coalition in Congress, a coalition not just of poor people, but a coalition of all of those who had not had opportunities, or whose constituents had not had opportunities for postsecondary education.
Prior performance is an even more important core concept of TRIO, both philosophically and politically. From a philosophical point of view, prior performance means that TRIO programs are not demonstration programs. They, in fact, are, and should be, a permanent part of every institution's student aid program.
In the same way that one doesn't close down easily an institution's financial aid program, one would not close down its TRIO program. These two programs are complementary programs aimed at a full range of bar-to-equal opportunity in postsecondary education. And they should be co-equals in terms of their status and in terms of their permanence in higher education.
So prior performance meant from its philosophical point of view that the TRIO programs are an integral part of student aid and that ideally, everywhere that student financial aid exists, so also should the full range of TRIO programs and services exist.
Politically, prior performance has facilitated the development of an extensive cadre of experienced TRIO Professionals. These people, over time, have gained political sophistication and experience that has enabled them to become a nationwide network of people able to protect and expand TRIO, as well as speak to and work for the broader agenda of equal opportunity.
Having a group of professionals across the country who have been able to persevere from year to year, as opposed to having programs uprooted every few years and moved from place to place is politically indispensable.
The 1980 reauthorization was really a watershed, in the sense of having five of the six programs in place and being able to enact the two key philosophical and political tenants of the TRIO program, first generation and prior performance.
More recently, the fifth reauthorization of the TRIO programs was in 1986, at which time the final of the current array of programs was created - the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program.
Thus, looking back a decade, it's easy to forget that it took 22 years, from 1964 to 1986, to construct the current array of TRIO programs. The most recent reauthorization, in 1992, the sixth reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, added one more, or in effect, put an exclamation point on one more important dimension of the TRIO history, and that is to put the TRIO programs in law rather than leaving them largely to the administrative discretion of the Department of Education.
When Congress passed the reauthorization of 1972, the TRIO programs in the law were one and a half pages long. Today the TRIO programs are 11 pages long in the law. They haven't changed that much in the 20 years between 1972 and 1992. The only real change is to add the McNair program.
What has changed is to increasingly elaborate and to write into the law the administrative conditions and administrative operations of the TRIO programs - that is, to increasingly take out of the discretion of the Department of Education, previously the Office of Education, how TRIO is to operate.
This action has served to shield the TRIO program from the impact of changes of administration, from changes in personnel within the administration and from various new enthusiasms of the administration as time goes by. For example, in 1992, the concept of a base grant was enacted, which stated that there would be a certain base level of stability for programs, that there would he a set aside of funds to hire readers for the TRIO program to ensure that there would be readers from outside of the Department of Education, that there would be a diverse and broad pool of readers selected and that grant applications would be rank-ordered in terms of their assessment.
All of those things would normally be found in regulations, but in the TRIO programs, all of these things are in the law. Therefore, TRIO has, in effect, shielded itself from the discretion and whims of the executive branch.
The twin transformations of the 1980s are, first of all, that TRIO has become an institution. TRIO programs are stable. They are continuous. They are not subject to the whim of either legislators or administrations.
In the second transformation, there was a move from an odd collection of programs that came from different places and different ideas into a very cohesive set of programs that are interlocking in their constituencies, in the services that are offered and in the administrative provisions that apply to all of the programs.
The second transformation of the 1980s is the growth in the political strength of the TRIO programs. TRIO programs have come a long way in terms of their political recognition. They've come a long way in terms of the political respect that they have, in terms of the political stature they have, and fundamentally, in terms of the political power they have. The TRIO programs are on the Washington scene and are not a constituency to be trifled with. They are a source of political power on behalf of their agenda and their programs. This is a tremendous record of success and a proud achievement.
But where do we go from here? The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is up in this coming Congress and the stakes are very high. The Higher Education Act expires in fiscal year 1998, but there is an automatic extension in the law that will carry it through fiscal year 1999, which means that academic year 1999-2000 is the first year that this reauthorization will be in effect. If this reauthorization is, again, for six years, it will carry through fiscal year 2004.
The heart of the Higher Education Act, what's going to be on the table, is Title IV - student financial aid plus the TRIO programs.
Title IV makes up 97 percent of the money appropriated under the Higher Education Act. This amounts to making $42 billion available to students in the current school year. About seven million students are receiving Federal aid. That's about 40+ percent of all students. Five million of those students receive aid based on financial need. The rest receive unsubsidized loans. And the aid that students receive from the Federal government is three quarters of all of the aid available from all of the sources in America. So if one were to add up all the money from the colleges, from the states, from charities, foundations three quarters of those dollars, of all student aid in America, comes from the Federal program.
This reauthorization is extremely important. First of all, this is the first reauthorization in history in which the Republicans will control both houses of Congress. There was one reauthorization in which the Republicans controlled one house of Congress, in 1986, but it was still the Democratic House that certainly set the tone of that reauthorization. Now, we're going to have both Houses of Congress controlled by the Republicans.
The good news is that they're not going to control both Houses by a very large majority So the Republicans cannot impose their will on the Democrats or on the President. They don't have enough votes to break a filibuster in the Senate. They don't have enough votes to override a veto in the House or the Senate. So the only legislation that's going to get enacted will be bipartisan.
The bad news is that TRIO programs are either the crown jewel of educational opportunity or some of those failed programs of the sixties, as some other people would think about them. To put it even more starkly, these are not Republican programs in their origin or in their continuation. So it's hard to expect a lot of sympathy for their future continuation.
The second piece of bad news is that the Members of Congress who are going to control this reauthorization in their staff are going to be all new people. The Chairmen and, indeed, the ranking minority members in most cases from all the recent reauthorizations, have all left. Congressman Bill Ford, the Chairman on the House Subcommittee for the last three reauthorizations retired. Congressman Tom Coleman, the ranking minority member for the last two reauthorizations also retired. Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin, Jack Reed from Rhode Island - all of them stalwarts on behalf of educational opportunity have left the House and the House Committee.
On the Senate side, Senator Claiborne Pell, who chaired every reauthorization since 1972 has retired. Senator Paul Simon, a former Chairman of the Subcommittee on the House side and an active member on the Senate side has retired. Senator Nancy Kassebaum has retired. All of these people and their brilliant and distinguished staff have left Congress.
Senator James Jeffords is now the full Committee Chairman on the Senate side. On the House side, Congressman Howard McKeon of California will be the subcommittee chairman. He has never gone through a reauthorization, even as a member of Congress, let alone as the chairman. And Dale Kildee of Michigan will be his ranking Democrat. He has been a member of the committee for several reauthorizations, but never on the subcommittee, and certainly never a ranking member.
So there are many new people and a lot of new leadership. Part of the political history of the success of TRIO over the last 20+ years has been that it has been the leadership of the committee that has fostered and believed in and advocated on behalf of the TRIO programs. This has been a very important element in the success of the TRIO programs.
In addition to this environment in which there are many new people, there are many issues outstanding for this Congress to deal with in terms of education. The new Republican Congress, particularly the House, was so successful in the last Congress that they didn't enact anything. That means that there are several education issues left over that are going to lap over into this Congress. One will be the reauthorization of the vocational and Adult Education Acts and the whole idea of reforming and consolidating job training.
The second item on the agenda will be the reauthorization of IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which also was supposed to be done in the past Congress. This is also left over. So, there are at least two major education reauthorizations to be done before higher education. And this will take the attention of many of the same people, many of the same Members of Congress, and many of the same staff who would otherwise be paying attention to higher education.
In addition to that, the Administration's education initiative will focus on the tax agenda, with the Hope scholarship and tax credit, the tax deduction, the IRA for higher education and the school construction tax initiative.
So where does that leave the reauthorization? It leaves the reauthorization with many inexperienced people operating on a tight time schedule with everything on the table. The best outcome from this reauthorization for everyone would be for Title IV in general and the TRIO programs specifically to be extended without change.
The TRIO programs have evolved to the point where they are strong, stable and they work well. They could always use more money but in terms of the basic legislative structure, it's in pretty good shape.
NOTE: Thomas Wolanin is a Senior Associate at The Institute for Higher Education Policy and Adjunct Professor of Education Policy and Political Science at George Washington University, Washington, DC. This article was adapted from a speech he made at the Council's Board of Directors' annual meeting in December 1996.