Tester Leads Charge to Help First Generation College Students Earn their Degrees

Group of 16 Senators Demand Secretary DeVos Stop Withholding Funds

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is leading a group of 16 Senators demanding Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stop preventing first-generation college students from getting an education.

In March, Congress passed a budget bill that included a six percent increase in funding for TRIO Programs, which provide low-income, first generation college students with the support, resources, and guidance they need to graduate from high school, enroll in college, and earn a degree.

This increase, which amounted to $60 million, could be distributed among the 3,100 local TRIO programs that currently assist more than 800,000 students nationwide.

“Congress recognizes the vital role that TRIO plays in helping students earn college degrees. That is why we provided an increase of $60 million, or six percent, for these vital initiatives,” the Senators told DeVos. “We are eager to see this additional funding go to TRIO grantees around the country so they can increase the number of students who benefit from their services.”

Instead, Secretary DeVos announced she would be distributing less than half of the additional funding to current TRIO grant recipients. The rest of the funding would be allocated through an intensive application process open to only a fraction of current grant recipients.

“We are very concerned to hear that the Department intends to force TRIO grantees to go through another burdensome, bureaucratic application process to access the additional funds provided by Congress,” the Senators wrote. “Many of these grantees went through the competitive application process as recently as the previous fiscal year.”

TRIO grant recipients go through a highly competitive application process every five years in order to receive funding. Requiring these already thoroughly vetted recipients to jump through more bureaucratic hoops in order to receive additional funding is a waste of time, energy, and resources, the Senators said.

“We urge you to respect Congressional intent and provide a substantial funding increase to all current TRIO grantees, without unnecessary bureaucratic strings attached,” the Senators wrote. “TRIO grantees should be focusing on supporting students and helping them excel, not vying to access the funding Congress wants them to have.”

As Co-Chair of the Senate’s TRIO Caucus, Tester has played a pivotal role in making sure these programs have the resources they need to succeed. Last April, Tester led a group of 25 Senators calling on Secretary DeVos to re-review dozens of TRIO grant applications that had been rejected due to minor formatting issues.

One such application came from the University of Montana’s Upward Bound Program, which was rejected because one page out of its 65-page application wasn’t double spaced. After sharing the success stories of Upward Bound students, passing legislation, and introducing a bill to hold Secretary DeVos accountable, Tester succeeded in getting the DOE to reverse its decision. Tester has helped secure millions of dollars for the other two dozen TRIO programs that serve nearly 6,000 students across Montana.

The letter was also signed by Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jack Reed (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

The Senators’ letter to Secretary DeVos is available HERE.