Trump’s ‘skinny budget’ proposes cuts to TRIO programs

If implemented, federal slicing could lead to reduced access to education

Derek Sporbert

Derek Sporbert, director of TRIO programs at UND, recently visited the the nation’s capital to meet with North Dakota’s congressional delegation and advocate for college access for residents throughout North Dakota, especially rural students. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

The real Washington, D.C., is different than the one you see in the media, said Derek Sporbert.

“I see very intelligent people on both sides of the aisle doing their best for people back home,” said Sporbert, Director of TRIO Programs. “The perspective is completely different. People are not yelling at each other like you see on Meet the Press.

Sporbert recently visited the Capitol to visit with the Congressional delegation to advocate college access for residents throughout North Dakota, especially rural students.

He timed his visit well: it took place just a week after President Trump announced his “skinny budget,” which among other cuts, would reduce funding for TRIO programs by 10 percent, eliminate Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants for low-income students, and reduce funding for Pell Grants, which also serve low-income students. Federal work study funds would also be reduced.

If implemented, the proposed federal budget cuts would affect TRIO Programs and student financial aid. That could have a domino effect: Fewer students will be able to afford college, and less financial aid and other assistance could impact retention.

A history of success

Sporbert said he had good discussions with the delegation.

“North Dakota has a long history of supporting education in the state,” Sporbert said. “The Congressional delegation is very supportive of college access in North Dakota. They support TRIO Programs, financial aid, and college access, all of which offer opportunity to college students.”

UND TRIO Programs serve 3,400 students across North Dakota, including pre-college programs.

Sponsored by UND and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, TRIO identifies and serves promising students (Talent Search) prepares them to do college work (Upward Bound), provides information on academic and financial aid opportunities (Educational Opportunity Center), provides tutoring and support services on campus (Student Support Services), and encourages and prepares students for doctoral studies (Ronald E. McNair Post baccalaureate Achievement Program). These five programs enable students to progress through the academics pipeline from middle school to post baccalaureate studies.

Serving fewer students

If the proposed 10 percent budget cuts take place, Sporbert said, TRIO’s budget would be reduced by about $170,000, and he estimates that they would serve about 400 fewer students.

The reductions, Sporbert said, could hit students in rural areas and on reservations particularly hard.

“We’d have to cut our rural programs, especially travel to rural and reservation schools,” Sporbert said, adding that rural areas are already at a disadvantage when it comes to college preparation.

“Class B schools and schools on the reservations don’t have a lot of resources to help students prepare for college,” Sporbert said. “These proposed cuts are especially concerning, because students in those schools are already at a disadvantage.”

“We travel to schools and offer assistance with preparing to take the ACT test, provide information on financial aid, and offer other services,” Sporbert said. “Our outreach programs help students learn about college.” He added that many of these services, especially travel to rural areas, would have to be reduced or eliminated.

“If implemented, these cuts would decrease opportunities for rural students and reduce their knowledge of options after high school,” Sporbert said. “Today’s high school guidance counselors are often overwhelmed, and some just don’t have the time to help students prepare for college.”

The proposed cuts would also decrease the number of students who enroll at UND and other schools in the North Dakota University System, said Sporbert. “These cuts would have a disproportionate impact on rural states like North Dakota.”

Sporbert said that offering outreach through skype or other technology just isn’t as effective. “If we want students to come to college, stay in college, and succeed in college, you have to form a relationship with them,” he said. “We work with these students one-on-one. You’re not going to get a kid to leave their hometown to go to college because you handed them a pamphlet.”

The biggest impact, though, Sporbert said, would be really big: reductions in the Pell Grant program, which supports low-income undergraduate students, could total $3.9 billion. Pell grants, the largest income-based financial aid program, do not need to be paid back and are key to earning a degree for students with few resources.

“We can’t retain students if they don’t have help to pay for college,” Sporbert said.