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New qualifications mean that Upward Bound will return to Mills

Mills College Upward Bound, part of a national program providing preparatory instruction for disadvantaged kids, is planning to reopen in Jan. 2008 after being forced to close in June of this year due to a lack of federal funding.

Funding was not renewed after the yearly proposal from the Mills College Upward Bound failed to earn the 80 or more points out of 100 it needed to qualify for federal funds, according to Director Romeo Garcia, who wrote the proposal.

The proposal scored 70, 75 and 80, but Garcia said that the proposal scored in the 90’s in previous years. Each score would have to be 80 or above for the school to qualify.

Proposals are evaluated and ranked by three peer readers, in accordance with a 1998 appropriation amendment to the 1965 Higher Education Act. This group is chosen by the U.S. Dept. of Education, Garcia said.

“It was the same proposal we’ve put out for the past twelve years,” he said.

He added that their proposals had scored higher in previous years, but the evaluation process changed.

Garcia said review of proposals used to be done by personnel from TRIO, the group of educational outreach programs created in 1965 as part of the “War on Poverty.” TRIO includes Upward Bound and Talent Search programs.

Garcia said that readers used to fly to Washington D.C. in order to evaluate proposals, but now they are more anonymous because the evaluation process is done electronically.

He added that, according to Upward Bound’s internal reports, he knows “fewer and fewer” TRIO staff members are selected to be peer readers in the review process. Instead, funding applicants are considered to be institutions, like Mills College. Because of this, the Dept. of Education defines peers as college administrators, professors and the like.

Along with 80 other programs around the nation, the Mills branch was excluded from this year’s list of programs for federal funding, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s June 27, 2007 article. The lack of funds forced Mills to close Upward Bound.

Garcia posted a letter on his MySpace site on May 15. He urged the Mills Upward Bound community to work together, writing that he and Mills leadership developed a plan to protest the Dept. of Education’s decision.

He and officials from Mills drafted an appeal in which they outlined disagreements with the readers’ deductions, he said.

Delaine Easton, former Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of California and current Senior Advisor to President Janet Holmgren, said she was “heartsick” to learn that funding was cut off.

Easton contacted Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), who is also a Mills alumna. Easton said Lee was instrumental in gaining additional money for the program.

According to a press release on Lee’s official website, Lee and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) ushered an amendment to the Higher Education Act through the House and Senate in July. The amendment allotted an additional $57 million to Upward Bound programs that scored 70 or above and did not receive funding for the 2007 fiscal year.

Garcia said that the Mills Upward Bound program will receive $710,000 per year from now until 2011. The funding was $690,000 per year from 2002 – 2006.

The increase in federal funds allowed more Upward Bound programs to have money for the years 2007-2011, said Garcia, including those whose proposals scored lower than the original cut-off score of 80 out of 100 points. He hopes to continue the program Easton called “an enormous success.”

The people Upward Bound supports include low-income students and the children from families who have never gone to college. It provides counseling, college prep coursework and on-site exposure to college campuses during the school year. It also includes a program where students live on campus and take classes during the summer.

Garcia said that since 1996, nine program participants have come to Mills, including Brenda Orozco, Mara Chavez, Maria Dominguez and Van Le.

Dr. Cynthia Scheinberg, chair of the English department and dean of graduate literary studies, said she has taught Upward Bound’s senior English class during the summer. She and Garcia have also taught an upper division English course in which half the participants are Mills students and half are Upward Bound students.

“The course was a lot of the social-action aspect of writing and we had a lot of different life experiences and diversity of experience.” Scheinberg said.

Scheinberg said she and Garcia plan to teach the class, listed as English 171, again next year. “The program is so important to so many students, and to Mills,” she said.

Scheinberg noted that “so many people at Mills and people like Barbara Lee protested is a testament to how much we want the program to stay.”