Upward Bound 50th Anniversary

Upward Bound 50th Anniversary
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For the Press

What is Upward Bound?

Upward Bound is a national program that more than doubles the chances of low-income, first-generation students graduating from college so they can escape poverty and enter the middle class. It has provided millions of Americans with academic support and coaching to achieve the dream of attending college and continues to do so in nearly 1,000 rural and urban U.S. communities.

Whom Does Upward Bound Serve?

As mandated by Congress, two-thirds of Upward Bound students served must come from families with incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty level and in which neither parent graduated from college. Veterans Upward Bound serves veterans who may have graduated high school but have delayed pursuing post-secondary education.

Where and When Did it Start?

Sargent Shriver and Lyndon B. Johnson
Upward Bound began as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty in 1964. The Office of Economic Opportunity that year developed Upward Bound as an experimental program to help low-income, first-generation students get a college education. In 1965, 17 Upward Bound programs (see locations below) enrolled 2,061 participants.

Upward Bound was one of the first of several federal college-access programs known as “TRIO” — so named because there were, at the time, three such federal programs for low-income students — Upward Bound, Student Support Services, and Talent Search. Today there are eight TRIO programs. For more information about TRIO, please click here.

How Does it Work?

Upward Bound partners colleges with challenged and under-resourced high schools to expose students to college and prepare them for the challenge of higher education. Students between the ages of 13 and 18 receive instruction in college readiness, literature, composition, mathematics, and science on college campuses, after school, on Saturdays and during the summer.

Where is Upward Bound Located?

There are Upward Bound projects in all 50 states, including Washington, D.C., the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Guam, and Puerto Rico. Except for Rhode Island which has one program, all other states have two or more. For a complete list of programs by state, please click here Document is available for download (.xls).


Who Are Upward Bound Students?

When Koreco Wilkins started high school in inner-city Detroit, he didn’t know anyone who was going to college. Strong in math and science, he struggled with writing. His father had finished middle school and although his mother had attended some college, he had no plans to go himself.

Jessica Ferrell wanted to be a veterinarian as soon she heard there was such a profession. Growing up in a West Virginia coal-mining community, she didn’t know how to go about achieving that. She saw that men went into coal, timber, railroad, or retail jobs and women stayed home or worked entry-level nursing jobs.

Nhoua Yang’s parents were Hmong refugees from Laos who emigrated in a wave to the United States in 1986. Her father earned his G.E.D. here and her mother had never attended any school until she took ESL classes in Lansing, Michigan. When Nhoua spotted an Upward Bound brochure on a teacher’s desk, it was “like divine intervention.”

They’re typical Upward Bound kids — Americans between the ages of 13 and 18, growing up poor and handling challenges that are unique to a low-income environment. Some are homeless or live in group homes or foster homes. About 75% are minorities. They may have limited online access and, if they live in rural areas, lack transportation. The biggest challenge can be surviving day to day.

Often, their parents didn’t attend college; until their first encounter with an Upward Bound counselor, few people have asked them their aspirations.

Too often, their parents’ educational level will make it even less likely that these kids will earn a bachelor’s degree. Those whose parents do not possess a college degree are called, “first generation students.”

The results are stark: Almost five times as many students from affluent families, where parents earned college degrees, earned their Bachelors’ degrees in six years than low-income, first-generation students, according to Pell Institute data.

Upward Bound makes an impact on such statistics — and, more important, on human lives.

In Jessica, Koreco, and Nhoua’s lives, Upward Bound counselors intervened and inspired them.

Koreco is a senior at Michigan State University, studying mechanical engineering. He’s an intern at Alcoa, the aluminum company, and considering graduate school.

Jessica graduated from high school, was awarded a Presidential Scholarship, received her Bachelor of Science at Concord University, and this year received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. In June she began her new job as a veterinarian, back in her West Virginia hometown.

Nhoua was high school valedictorian and graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Health & Society with a concentration in Psychology. She works in the MSU TRIO office which helps motivate and support students from low-income backgrounds in their pursuit of higher education.

Fast Facts

  • Since 1964 more than 2 million students have participated in Upward Bound.
  • In 1964, 17 Pilot programs were funded, 2,061 students participated.
  • In 1964, approximately 1,500 Upward Bound students graduated high school; 80% were admitted to college in 1965 and 69% graduated with a bachelor’s degree.
  • Today, 964 programs are funded with more than 80,000 students participating.
  • The likelihood of Upward Bound students going to college immediately after graduation increases by persistence in the program from 77% at two years to 93% at three or more years.
  • A student from top quartile of family income is nine times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than a student born into the bottom quartile — 73.3% compared to 8.3%.

Upward Bound Timeline

The Pilot Programs

University of the Ozarks
Clarksville, AR
Howard University
Washington, D.C.
Florida A&M University
Tallahassee, FL
Morehouse College
Atlanta, GA
Dillard University
New Orleans, LA
Independent Schools Talent Search Program
Boston, MA
Webster University
St. Louis, MO
New Mexico Highlands University
Las Vegas, NM
Columbia University
New York, NY
Le Moyne College
Syracuse, NY
New York University
New York, NY
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR
Fisk University
Nashville, TN
Tennessee State University
Nashville, TN
Texas Southern University
Houston, TX
Western Washington State University
Bellingham, WA
Ripon College
Ripon, WI

From the pilot of 17 projects funded in 1964 and started in summer 1965, five projects are still in existence — Howard University (D.C.); Dillard University (New Orleans, LA); Columbia University (New York, NY); LeMoyne College (Syracuse, NY); and Texas Southern University (Houston, TX).

Upward Bound is More Important Now Than Ever

The United States needs to boost both its academic and economic competitiveness on a global level. 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, from all backgrounds, who are academically prepared and motivated to achieve success. Please also see the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce’s “Recovery — Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020” and the Pew Research Center’s topics on the “Value of Higher Education.”

Low-income students are being left behind. Data shows that in 2012, a student born into the top quartile of family income was about nine times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24 than was a student born into the bottom quartile — 73.3% as compared to 8.3%. In fact, every measure of academic performance is correlated with family income — high school graduation (91.5% vs. 72.4%), college continuation (88.6% vs. 61.6%), college participation (81.0% vs. 44.6%), and estimated bachelor’s degree attainment by age 24 (73.3% vs. 8.3%). (Postsecondary Education Opportunity, October 2013).

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. (ACSFA 2005).

Data Supporting Impact of Upward Bound

Return on Investment

College Participation RatesEstimated Baccalaureate Degree Attainment
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