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Upward Bound

The Design of a Project, Veteran's Upward Bound, Upward Bound Math/Science

Upward Bound (UB) is a federal educational program designed to prepare high school students from poverty-level homes for entry and success in college. It was begun in the summer of 1965, when the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) funded seventeen summer pilot programs on college campuses under the Community Action component of the Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1965. It formed a miniscule part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

The theoretical basis for the program was taken from the work of Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin's opportunity theory, which addressed the problems of juvenile delinquency and gang behavior. Several members of the President's Commission on Juvenile Delinquency in the Justice Department transferred to OEO and adapted Cloward and Ohlin's basic concepts. They designed programs to increase the chances that youth from disadvantaged backgrounds might enter and succeed in higher education as one way to overcome poverty. Experimental precollege programs funded in the early 1960s by foundations provided ready-made structures for what the programs might look like. Upward Bound gained recognition, though it never became as well known as its sister program for preschool youngsters, Head Start, also housed in OEO. It has been restricted in its possible impact because of underfunding, caused at first by the escalating cost of the Vietnam War and then by the inflation that followed. This pattern continued, and in 2001 it was estimated that only between 1 to 7 percent of the eligible students are being served.

The Higher Education Amendments of 1969 transferred UB from OEO to the Office of Education in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. There it was joined with two other programs designed to work with different populations of lowincome youth to increase the likelihood that they would enter and/or succeed in postsecondary education. These formed what began to be called the TRIO Programs.

The current legislative authority for UB is found in the Higher Education Act of 1965, Title IV, Part A, Subpart 2, Section 402C. 20 U.S.C. 107a-13. Program information and requirements, legislative references, and other current information can be accessed at the Department of Education Federal TRIO Program Internet site.

A call for proposals is published every four years in the Federal Register. Four-and five-year grants are awarded to institutional applicants based on ranked scores assigned by peer reviewers. In the 1998 competition, 82 percent of the applicants were funded.

Since 1986 the legislation has directed that "prior experience" be considered and points added to the peer review scores of previously funded projects that met certain criteria. TRIO is unique among federal discretionary grant awards for incorporating this element in the competition process, and it helps provide a quasi permanence to previously funded projects.

The Design of a Project

Regulations require that the students selected have a need for academic support and that two-thirds come from low-income families (defined as income less than 150 percent of poverty level) where neither parent has attained a baccalaureate degree. The student is then defined as a "potential first-generation college student." The remaining one-third must meet only one of these criteria. Participants enter during their ninth or tenth grade and are expected to remain through high school graduation. Most UB programs are located on college campuses and consist of a residential six-week intensive summer program with follow-up during the school year. Many projects offer Saturday and weekday after-school sessions designed to improve student performance in the sciences, mathematics, languages, and computer skills. Other services include college visitations, counseling, test preparation, and various cultural enrichment activities. Students usually receive a small stipend for participation. Programs range in size from 50 to 150 students with an average enrollment of seventy.

Over time, the programs have come to be somewhat standardized and, for the most part, less experimental than in the earlier years. The legislation and regulations have evolved to require more uniform program design and increasingly insist on measurable outcomes. Indicators, such as improvement in student grade point averages, standardized test scores, and enrollment in and graduation from four-year institutions of higher education are monitored by annual performance reports in an attempt to determine whether program goals are being achieved.

Current information on UB as well as links to the home pages of several hundred projects can be accessed through links from the Internet site of the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), a national organization of TRIO professional staff.

Veteran's Upward Bound

In 1972 Congress authorized a Veteran's Upward Bound program (VUB) in response to the large number of military returning from the Vietnam War. Originally envisioned as lasting for only a short period of time, the VUB has continued to work with veterans from other conflicts despite several attempts to eliminate this component of the UB program. Although the goals of the VUB programs are the same as classic programs, that is, to increase postsecondary enrollment, more latitude is permitted in age range and the types of services offered.

Upward Bound Math/Science

In 1990 an initiative was undertaken to address the concern that students from low-income, first-generation, and minority populations were not well represented in the fields of science and mathematics. Upward Bound Math/Science programs (UBMS) were begun, often drawing participants from a regional area extending over several states and hundreds of miles from the host institution. The emphasis was, and continues to be, the preparation of participants for postsecondary study in fields of mathematics and the sciences. Because participants are spread out over such a large geographic area, these programs face a challenge in continuing follow-up services for participants during the academic year, which follows the summer program at the host institution's campus.

Evaluations of the Program

Many studies have been done on the effectiveness of UB. The most comprehensive evaluation was completed in 1979 and concluded that UB does have a positive effect on overall educational attainment and college enrollment but no effect on high school academic preparation or persistence in college. A current longitudinal study was begun in 1992. It is following a treatment and control group from a nationally representative sample of students and is designed to assess the impact of the program on participants over a ten-to twelve-year period. Preliminary findings indicate that specific subgroups of students receive the greatest benefits from the program: those with lower academic expectations and poorer performance on entry–Hispanic students, boys, and students who qualified solely under the low-income criteria.

Greater impact on both high school and college outcomes becomes more evident the longer a student remains in the program. Because nearly two-thirds of the participants withdraw from the program within two years, this finding highlights the need for retention if the intervention is to become most effective. The large majority of students leaving report that they terminate to take a job. In response to this, the authorizing statute now allows summer students to participate in a work-study component, designed to expose participants to careers requiring a postsecondary degree. However, current funding is not sufficient to allow the $900 to be awarded to participants in most projects.

Upward Bound is the most costly of the federal TRIO programs, which as a group rank among the highest expenditures in discretionary federal dollars for education after student financial aid. In 2001–2002 the Department of Education reported there were 772 UB projects, including forty-five VUB, and 123 additional UBMS projects across the United States and its territories. Funding for classic and VUB projects totaled $251,154,772, serving an estimated 56,564 students; an additional $30,874,003 was awarded to the UBMS projects serving 6,093 students. The average yearly cost per participant in regular UB was $4,440 and $5,063 for UBMS.


BENDIXEN, SALLY, and WESBY, JOHN. 1990. "A History of the Veterans Upward Bound Program." NCEOA Journal Fall:16–19.

GROUTT, JOHN, and HILL, CALVIN. 2001. "Upward Bound: In the Beginning." Opportunity Outlook April:23–36.

MCELROY, EDWARD J., and ARMESTO, MARIA. 1998. "TRIO and Upward Bound: History, Programs, and Issues–Past, Present, and Future." The Journal of Negro Education 67:373–380.

MORTENSON, THOMAS. 2000. "TRIO Market Penetration." Postsecondary Education Opportunity 95:10–16.

MYERS, DAVID, and SCHRIM, ALLEN. 1999. The Impacts of Upward Bound: Final Report for Phase I of the National Evaluation, Executive Summary. Washington, DC: Prepared under contract by Mathematica Policy Research for the U.S. Department of Education, Planning and Evaluation Services.

WOLANIN, THOMAS R. 1977. "The History of TRIO: Three Decades of Success and Counting." NCEOA Journal April:2–4.


COUNCIL FOR OPPORTUNITY IN EDUCATION. 2002. <www.trioprograms.org>.

FEDERAL TRIO PROGRAMS. 2002. <www.ed.gov/offices/OPE/HEP/trio/upbound.html>.

TRIO NATIONAL CLEARINGHOUSE. 1999. The Impacts of Upward Bound: Final Report for Phase I of the National Evaluation, Executive Summary. <www.trioprograms.org/clearinghouse>.


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