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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Roundtable: “Strengthening Federal Access Programs to Meet 21st Century Needs: A Look at TRIO and GEAR UP”

“Today’s roundtable will focus on our main federal college access programs — TRIO and GEAR UP—and how they’re performing in helping low-income students access and persist through postsecondary education.  This roundtable marks our fifth event in a series to examine issues we plan to address in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

“These federal programs have a rich history.  Through the Higher Education Act of 1965, Congress created the TRIO programs to ensure that low-income students have the preparation needed to attend postsecondary education.  GEAR UP came later, and shares the same goal.

“Our review of this work couldn’t come at a better time: Last week, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s War on Poverty address to Congress.  There are some who claim that the Great Society was a great failure-- I fundamentally disagree with that view. 

“Thanks to these programs, millions of students have been able to aspire to a postsecondary education and to achieve that dream.  However, it is crucial that we take the time to reflect on the intent and history of these programs, so we can continue to build on their strengths and improve upon their shortcomings.  We will have the opportunity to do so today and in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

“We all know that many low-income students need critical supports when it comes to college preparation. We all know there is far more work to be done if we’re going to meet President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.  The question becomes: what should the federal role be to encourage this work?  How can we best utilize the limited federal dollars we have to promote college preparation? 

“As I’ve stated in past hearings, the need for shared responsibility regarding higher education funding couldn’t be greater.  How can all stakeholders work together to enhance and leverage these federal higher education dollars?  How can we ensure that the work being done by these grants is most effective? 

“Today we will hear from key stakeholders in the college access community: advocates, researchers, program operators and a former student.  I am eager to hear from each of them how we can strengthen our efforts to equip low-income students with the tools they need to attain a quality postsecondary degree. 

“I expect our roundtable participants will provide their perspectives on these programs as well as recommendations for how they could be improved.  The goal today is to have an open discussion that informs the ongoing debate on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. I thank all of our participants for being with us today.”