5 methods for maximizing your TRIO program and supporting students with college preparation

students walking down a university hallway

If your school hosts one or more of the federal TRIO programs, you’ll know just how crucial these initiatives are in supporting disadvantaged students who want to progress through high school and attend college. 

Since the mid-1960s, when the Department of Education introduced the first three TRIO programs, the initiative has continued to grow, catering to the needs of low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and people with disabilities who want to achieve their dreams of receiving a college education. 

The global pandemic has, of course, hit education hard, and although we’re happy to see that additional funding has been allocated to TRIO programs, closed schools throughout much of the past year have impacted our most vulnerable children. 

More students will need support and although TRIO has helped more than 2 million low-income learners graduate college, its success is also a double-edged sword. 

Funding for TRIO grants is already extremely competitive. 

Performance data is often a key metric in determining whether grants are fully renewed for individual institutions, which happens every five years. 

Unfortunately, the economic downturn we’ve experienced due to the pandemic will only increase competition for funding. 

As such, it’s crucial then that K-12 schools and districts use their TRIO dollars wisely.  

So, how can schools maximize their funding and build effective student services? 

Let’s break this topic down by looking at five ways you can run a successful and sustainable TRIO program that will benefit your school, your local community, and your students. 

  1. Know which TRIO programs work best for your students.
  2. Promote inclusivity across your school.
  3. Improve student access to virtual learning.
  4. Take full advantage of what TRIO has to offer.
  5. Encourage TRIO graduates to become mentors.

1. Know which TRIO programs work best for your students. 

If you’re new to TRIO, it’s important to note that although there are now eight programs, only the three original schemes best serve high schools’ interests.

To qualify, students typically need to fulfill specific criteria, such as demonstrating a need for academic support, financial situation (low-income family), having a disability, or belonging to a family where neither parent is a college graduate.

Let’s take a look at these programs in a little more detail.

Upward Bound is the best-known TRIO program, focusing on middle and high school pupils who show academic ability but lack the resources to take full advantage of their potential.  

Students are equipped with the academic skills needed to succeed at college, with participants receiving college prep instruction across core subjects, including math, laboratory sciences, literature, and foreign languages.

TRIO advisors assist on the pastoral side, running numerous workshops throughout the academic year. 

Upward Bound Math-Science targets learners who show a specific interest in mathematics and technology with the aim being to help participants pursue a career in a related area. 

Talent Search is a little different from Upward Bound. On one hand, it is aimed at middle and high school students, with preparation for life at college being the overarching goal. Still, it’s more concerned with improving high school dropout rates by supporting disadvantaged children who show academic potential but are in danger of dropping out of secondary education altogether. 

Student Support Services provides financial aid, counseling, and academic assistance for college students who have recently graduated from high school. Support is available for students from their freshman year right through to graduation. On-site TRIO advisors can also help participants secure funding for scholarships and assist them in applying for graduate programs.  

Understanding each program’s subtle differences will help you identify potential TRIO students in your school and assist them with the application process.  

Check out this useful resource for more insights on how TRIO empowers disadvantaged children.  


2. Promote inclusivity across your school. 

Your TRIO program’s success will often depend on high retention rates and making sure participants see value in the services you are offering.

TRIO participants have the same insecurities that many typical high school students face, but more challenging personal circumstances often magnify their fears. 

They may lack suitable role models and adult guidance, feel isolated and alone, and find it difficult to trust both their peers and potential mentors. 

But schools can work with teachers to build safer and more welcoming classrooms that will help disadvantaged and disabled students succeed. 

Here are three great ways you can support your TRIO students. 

  1. Don’t shy away from difficult subjectsYou can talk about differences. You can speak about social class. You can discuss disability too. Just make sure you’re not relying on your TRIO students to frame the debate.   
  2. Encourage teachers to volunteer for TRIO membership: the best way you can show how much you value your program and your student’s education is to encourage staff to get involved and learn about how TRIO works. 
  3. Prioritize building stronger links between your school and the communities that are home to your TRIO students. If you can encourage parents, caregivers, local community leaders, and businesses to align their efforts with your own, it can only benefit both your program and your students. 

Taking a community-based approach will not only raise awareness of your TRIO program but will also ensure that it is more sustainable and cost-effective in the long run. 

3. Improve student access to virtual learning.  

young student taking notes in front of laptop

Helping your TRIO students prepare for college during a pandemic that has seen most schools switch to online learning for significant periods poses unique challenges.

How can students become more computer-savvy if they don’t have access to the software they need?

Problems with accessibility and affordability are two of the primary reasons for this. Still, there are useful resources available for schools trying to support learners in their online learning. 

Comcast offers two months of free internet access for TRIO students who are struggling to access the internet at home, and their packages outside of this plan are also low-cost.  

Many TRIO participants rely heavily on both student services and 1:1 tuition. The importance of working with a trained professional who is also a familiar face cannot be overstated. 

But what if rules around social distancing make physical meetups all but impossible? 

And what if you don’t have the resources available to offer full online support for TRIO students who are getting ready to sit essential exams like the SAT? 

Online high school tutoring platforms like Skooli can help solve this problem. Skooli matches students with qualified teachers across all core subjects covered by both the Upward Bound and Talent Search programs. There’s also online support for the SAT. 

Users can review and select the right tutor for their needs, connect in real-time, schedule classes, and make use of a learning platform that is safe and user-friendly.

The pandemic will end, but remote learning is here to stay

It’s important schools do everything possible to ensure all students are ready for college and are comfortable using digital platforms. 

4. Take full advantage of what TRIO can offer. 

student at laptop giving a thumbs up

The transition from high school to college can be a real culture shock for some students who might have difficulty adjusting to a lifestyle that requires more self-discipline while also promoting greater independence. 

TRIO recognizes this, and both Upward Bound and Talent Search emphasize the pastoral side and the need for academic support and advice. 

Access to college campuses, professional career guidance, and mentoring services are integral to both programs, and schools are encouraged to utilize these resources as best they can.  

If your school is running Upward Bound, it’s a good idea to explore its nationwide six-week summer residential course which runs in partnership with local State colleges. 

It’s designed to help participants gain self-confidence, learn more about independent living, and develop new academic skills. 

Here’s an example of what a typical Upward Bound summer program looks like. 

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many colleges could not host full residential courses last summer as they switched to virtual programs instead. 

At this stage, it’s difficult to say for sure whether Upward Bound will run its traditional six-week program this summer, but many colleges were able to adapt last year and ran successful online courses.

It’s also worth noting that the Department of Education has helped colleges host virtual campus tours for high-school TRIO students and their families throughout the pandemic. This is likely to continue into 2021.  

5. Encourage TRIO graduates to become mentors. 

teacher sitting with students around a table

Leveraging the knowledge and experience of TRIO alumni can do wonders for your program. 

Someone who has firsthand experience of how TRIO works is the perfect person to take on a mentoring role because they offer a unique perspective. 

By drawing on their personal experience of the program, TRIO graduates can build trusting relationships with students who might be more comfortable working with someone they can identify with. 

Many schools and colleges have enjoyed success with recruiting TRIO alumni for their in-house mentoring programs. 

What better endorsement can you get than a graduate who has been through the process and wants to contribute to your high-school program? 

Schools should invest in online learning. 

TRIO has done fantastic work since its inception in the mid-sixties, helping millions of disadvantaged students graduate from high school and go on to receive a college education.

We’re sure that TRIO will continue to support underprivileged students, and provide schools with the resources they require for many years to come.  

But as COVID continues to fuel the demand for remote learning, schools must respond by using some of their federal funding to invest in online education that is safe, affordable, and easily accessible for all students. 

Contact us today to find out how we can support all of your students with the 1:1 support they need.

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