Wichita State News

Wichita State home to largest TRIO program in the nation

Friday, January 17, 2014

“The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future.”

Plato said it first, but that’s the idea that gave birth to TRIO, a set of nine federally funded opportunity programs that recruit, motivate and support students in pursuit of higher education. More than that, TRIO targets individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds – low-income households, first-generation students and students with disabilities – whose dreams of college might otherwise go unfulfilled.

Wichita State University has sponsored the largest, most comprehensive TRIO community of any college campus in the United States for 46 years.

TRIO began as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” legislation in the mid 1960s. The Higher Education Act of 1965 established three college access and retention programs as an effort to break barriers to equality for opportunity in education. They have succeeded beyond expectation in an era of highlighted public skepticism of government programs.

TRIO is a success because it reliably produces valuable, tax-paying citizens to society. That’s a fundamental need in the U.S. today, and TRIO graduates contribute to the country’s academic and economic competitiveness globally. To have a healthy economy, a strong, educated and competent workforce is critical. TRIO programs prepare students to fill that need.

Who is served

TRIO seeks out students as early as sixth grade, preparing them for higher education. In college, TRIO programs offer academic tutoring, personal counseling, mentoring, financial guidance and more – whatever it takes to help students succeed.

Since its inception, TRIO has spread to support more than 1,000 educational institutions nationally, as well as in the Caribbean and Pacific Islands. As mandated by Congress, two-thirds of the students served come from families who earn less than $33,000, where neither parent graduated from college.

Nationally, more than 2,850 TRIO programs serve more than 830,000 low-income Americans. Thirty-seven percent of TRIO students are white, 35 percent are African-American, 19 percent are Hispanic, 4 percent are Native American, 4 percent are Asian-American, and 1 percent is listed as “other,” including multiracial students. Twenty-two thousand students with disabilities and more than 25,000 U.S. veterans are currently enrolled in the TRIO programs as well.

TRIO at Wichita State

The family of TRIO programs under Wichita State’s umbrella includes Communication Upward Bound, Disability Support Services, Educational Opportunity Centers Program, Educational Talent Search/Project Discovery, McNair Scholars Program, Student Support Services, Upward Bound Math/Sciences, 

Deltha Q. Colvin
Deltha Q. Colvin

Upward Bound Wichita Prep and Veterans Upward Bound.

From programs based at Wichita State, TRIO reaches out to students regionally, providing services to students attending all qualified institutions. Many beneficiaries of those programs choose to attend WSU because of the support system that’s already in place, making TRIO a powerful recruiting tool for the university.

That and other contributions are not something the TRIO staff gets a lot of recognition for, in part because it’s perceived as a federal program instead of a local one. Another reason their efforts go unnoticed is because they are focused on their students, which contributes to the strong national and regional reputation of WSU’s TRIO staff.

“TRIO staff and programs should be given the respect they have earned,” said Deltha Q. Colvin, associate vice president for special programs for Campus Life and University Relations Professional Development. “TRIO gets at the very soul of what can make an individual successful. Its history at WSU since 1965 is consistent and greater than most academic efforts. TRIO works.”

The fruits of their labor can be seen across campus.

“TRIO has impacted the enrollment of the institution and quality of the staff,” said Colvin.

She’s been involved in Upward Bound since 1965, and the mission of TRIO has been her life’s work.

“The success of the programs is very important to me,” she said. “I know what the students are going through. My dedication and commitment to the success of the students and their families is significant.”

Another thing TRIO does for WSU is support diversity, a valued commodity at Wichita State. Colvin says that in large part diversity is important here because of TRIO.

While a number of national celebrities attribute their success to TRIO, a lot of successful Shockers were once “TRIO kids” as well. A few of those students – including Colvin herself – who went on to successful careers include:

  • Marc Davis, Wichita attorney, McNair Scholar
  • Latina Wharton, attorney, Sedgwick County Public Defender’s Office, Upward Bound Wichita Prep
  • Christy James, English teacher, Derby High School, Upward Bound Wichita Prep
  • Maria Thomas, Washington, D.C., business owner/operator, ChiaFit Fitness Center, Upward Bound Math Science
  • Angel Sweetser, U.S. Department of Energy, Upward Bound Math Science


As with many federal programs, recent government shutdowns, slashed budgets and furloughs have been disruptive to TRIO’s efforts.

“An increase in funding is very important,” Colvin said, “and that is not happening. With greater funding we can offer more services and assistance to students who need help.”

Nationwide, TRIO received 3,259 individual awards from federal grants in 2013. At Wichita State, the programs received $5.5 million for the past year, down 5 percent from the year before. Most of TRIO’s funding comes from the Department of Education, but it also relies on the financial support of Wichita State.

The best thing about the WSU’s investment in TRIO, Colvin said, is that the money comes back to it.

What she and her staff want people to know is that the programs are worthwhile, because TRIO produces successful human beings.

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Created on Friday, January 17, 2014; Last modified on Tuesday, January 21, 2014