Cuts and Consequences: Why the Fate of TRiO Matters for the Humanities

In March, the Trump administration released the FY2017 budget, “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” Although since rehashed, the initial budget proposed to cut what many people consider to be vital programs. One of the more alarming proposed cuts was, of course, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and, as Executive Director Shannon Smith pointed out, the Wyoming Humanities Council depends on the NEH. This proposed defunding was worrying, to say the least, but the NEH was not the only program panicking about its potentially imminent expiration. In this month’s newsletter, we take a closer look at another important program and how it is connected to the humanities.

In total, the FY2017 budget proposed the elimination of 62 programs and agencies. One of them was TRiO.

The Federal TRiO Programs support outreach and services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The name TRiO was given after the first three programs were created – Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Student Support Services – but TRiO now includes eight programs that all work to serve students who are low-income, first-generation college students, and students who are disabled.

While the National Endowment for the Humanities (and therefore the Wyoming Humanities Council) came out safe for the remaining months of the fiscal year, the situation for TRiO Programs is still uncertain.

However, the risk of limited funding is not the only thing that connects the Humanities Council and TRiO; these programs share more than being undervalued. In many ways, TRiO programs actually work to promote the humanities and make humanities studies and scholarship accessible to those who might not otherwise encounter and engage with them.

Two TRiO programs that I have personal experience with are the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program (also known as the McNair Scholars Program) and Upward Bound.

Upward Bound works to support low-income and first-generation college students by preparing them for college while in high school. I currently work as the social sciences instructor for the Upward Bound program in Lynn, Massachusetts. Lynn, home to Fredrick Douglass, is a diverse city of just under 100,000 and is about ten miles north of downtown Boston. The city is struggling with a relatively high poverty level and a fair amount of gang activity. Just over 20 percent of the population of Lynn lives in poverty, and just under 80 percent of the population have completed high school.

Lynn is a city where programs like Upward Bound can make all the difference for the future of youth.

Manufacturing center of Lynn, MA, 1879, by Bailey, Oakley Hoopes & J.C. Hazen

Lynn’s 2017 Upward Bound Summer Academy just began earlier this week with 60 students enrolled. The Summer Academy will go for six weeks and features the theme of “Global Awareness.” Through their classes, workshops, and activities, students will grapple with difficult questions about what it means to be an informed global citizen. Whether students are learning how to calculate the amount of oil that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 BP oil spill in their math classes or learning about challenges of women around the world in their “International Women’s Voices” class, students are constantly being asked to consider human experiences around the world.

While Upward Bound can serve as an introduction to the humanities and to considering the human experience for high school students, the McNair Scholars Program can feed that curiosity and help it grow. I participated in the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Northern Colorado. There, the mission is to “provide [students] every opportunity to realize their potential and fulfill their dreams.” Through engaging students in undergraduate research projects, preparing them for the GRE, and advising them through the graduate school application process, the McNair Scholars Program aims to equip students to pursue higher education.

As a first-generation college student, I chose to major in English because I was good at writing and I liked English classes, and in International Studies because I liked learning about other cultures and international affairs. I never realized that I could actually make a career of studying human culture and asking questions about the human experience until McNair. I was not alone in that revelatory experience; several of my fellow McNair alum with interests in the humanities would not have had the resources or the support to pursue studies in their fields without the McNair Scholars Program. Here are just a couple more examples:

  • Sara Harvey, who just graduated with her Masters of Teaching in English from Colorado State University – Global Campus noted that while pursuing a major in the humanities tends to require students to study “a little about everything,” the McNair Scholars Program enabled her to “dive deeper into a specific subject in the humanities that I was interested in pursuing.” Sara went on to say, “The encouragement to narrow my interests allowed me to practice researching a specific field, but also prepared me for future options of specialization in graduate programs.”
  • Jared Hudson, who is now a graduate student pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at the Pratt Institute, explained that while the humanities are often under-valued due to not being seen as equally lucrative as STEM majors, “TRIO programs promote the humanities because they have the ability to show how pliant studies in those fields can be. They show that the study of human culture can be many things and can be done in a variety of ways which create and foster new ways of thought.”

Sara, Jared, and I would not be where we are in the journey of pursuing higher education without the McNair Scholars Program. And a few years from now, the high school students I am currently teaching might not be headed off to college if not for Upward Bound. As Jared said, “TRIO programs are truly there to help you succeed by challenging you in ways you never thought possible.”

Still, these programs are not only at work in inner-city communities across the country from our readers. TRiO Programs are national, with hundreds of institutions involved. In fact, both Upward Bound (and Upward Bound Math and Science) and the McNair Scholars Program have branches that work to bring these much-needed and transformative services to Wyoming’s students.

“Humanities” in its broadest sense is concerned with how we document, study, and explore the human experience, and TRiO programs bring that to students who otherwise might never have a chance to engage in these issues. As we continue the conversation about the state of the humanities and the NEH after the FY2017 budget, let’s not overlook the other programs that are also crucial for the promotion and vitality of the humanities. As we face the potential elimination of TRiO Programs, it is ever more important to consider and have a conversation about their true value.

Denise Muro is a recent graduate of the University of Wyoming with an MA in International Studies and a graduate minor in Gender and Women’s Studies. She also holds a BA in International Affairs and a BA in English from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where she worked in refugee resettlement at the Global Refugee Center. Her research focuses on contemporary asylum seekers and refugees in Germany and conceptions of and approaches to integration. She will begin her PhD in Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts Boston in the fall of 2017. If you would like to be considered or would like more information on contributing, please email us at