My family moved to the United States from Sudan when I was six. Despite going to a fairly good high school, no one expected me to attend college.  In fact, I didn’t even realize the importance of preparing for college until my junior year when I spoke with a guidance counselor about my future plans. I said I wanted to go to college, she said that wasn’t an option because of my grades. After this remark sunk in, I angrily wondered why I wasn’t given a heads up about programs to help me prepare for college sooner.

I felt abandoned by the high school support system. But then I talked to some friends in Upward Bound, a TRIO program that helps high school students prepare for college. It was a challenge enrolling me in the program because they usually begin preparing students earlier and the staff thought I might be a lost cause. It took some hard work, but I got in.  

Once I began my time in Upward Bound, I felt like the world was at my fingertips. The staff helped me make a plan – I attended summer and night school on top of my regular classes and received assistance with my college applications, FAFSA, and everything else that goes into the enrollment process. It wasn’t the staff holding my hand and doing this all for me, but they gave me the confidence, tools, and drive to go from a teenager without options to a freshman at the University of Oregon (UO).

Once I got into UO, the director of Upward Bound continued working on my behalf and spoke to admissions officers about who I was, not just my SAT score and GPA. He got me into a freshman support program that laid an academic framework that would carry me through graduation. 

The real benefit of Upward Bound wasn’t per se the homework help or application assistance; rather, it was that the staff made me believe college was possible. They treated me as a human being instead of a number and saw in me what my guidance counselor had so readily dismissed.

Federal programs get easily lost in anti-spending, Big Brother rhetoric that makes things like TRIO seem like a drain on the United States when in reality, they offer hope to future generations. All it takes to wade through the mucky political bickering is to listen to the stories of people across the country whose lives are made better every day by programs such as TRIO. 

For the first time since he has been elected, President Obama has made TRIO a priority by including an increase in his FY 2012 Budget Proposal. Now it is up to Congress to ensure that these programs are adequately funded in FY 2011 and FY 2012. The future of this great country depends on it.

Getachew Kassa is the Legislative Director for the United States Student Association.