The TRIO programs were the first national college access and retention programs to address the serious social and cultural barriers to education in America. TRIO began as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty. The Educational Opportunity Act of 1964 established an experimental program known as Upward Bound. Then, in 1965, the Higher Education Act created Talent Search. Finally, another program, Special Services for Disadvantaged Students (later known as Student Support Services), was launched in 1968.
Together, this TRIO of federally-funded programs encouraged access to higher education for low-income students. By 1998, the TRIO programs had become a vital pipeline to opportunity, serving traditional students, displaced workers and veterans. The original three programs had grown to eight, adding Educational Opportunity Centers and Veterans Upward Bound in 1972, Training Program for Federal TRIO programs in 1976, the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program in 1986, Upward Bound Math/Science in 1990 and the TRIO Dissemination Partnership in 1998. Finally, the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2001 amended the Student Support Services (SSS) program to permit the use of program funds for direct financial assistance (Grant Aid) for current SSS participants who are receiving Federal Pell Grants.
Over the years, the TRIO Programs have been expanded and improved to provide a wider range of services and reach more students who need assistance. Now, more than 850,000 low-income, first-generation students and students with disabilities from sixth grade through college graduation are served by more than 2,800 programs across the nation.
The United States needs to boost both its academic and economic competitiveness globally. In order to foster and maintain a healthy economy as well as compete globally, the United States needs a strong, highly-educated, and competent workforce. To be on par with other nations, the country needs students, no matter their background, who are academically prepared and motivated to achieve success.
Low-income students are being left behind. Only 38% of low-income high school seniors go straight to college as compared to 81% of their peers in the highest income quartile. Then, once enrolled in college, low-income students earn bachelor's degrees at a rate that is less than half of that of their high-income peers — 21% as compared with 45%.
The growing achievement gap in our country is detrimental to our success as a nation. There is a tremendous gap in educational attainment between America's highest and lowest income students — despite similar talents and potential. While there are numerous talented and worthy low-income students, relatively few are represented in higher education, particularly at America's more selective four-year colleges and universities. While nearly 67% of high-income, highly-qualified students enroll in four-year colleges, only 47% of low-income, highly-qualified students enroll. Even more startling, 77% of the least-qualified, high-income students go on to college, while roughly the same proportion of the most-qualified low-income students that go on to college.