Teresita Alvarez

(WOMENSENEWS)–Sixteen-year-old Briana Brackin may have grown up in a working-poor family, but she doesn’t intend to let that keep her from her dream of becoming a psychologist.

At the close of her sophomore year at Trimble Tech, a public school in Ft. Worth, Texas, Brackin plans to spend her summer visiting colleges, thanks to the Upward Bound program. This summer the federal program will send her to live and study at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, as well as take her on trips her family can’t afford to visit Tarleton State University in Stephenville and Abilene Christian University in Abilene.

Brackin has participated in the program for two years, receiving academic support, SAT test preparation twice a week after school and help in applying for the scholarships she will need to fund her education.

“I would be lost in the college world without this program, because it’s such a confusing process,” said Brackin, who came into Upward Bound when a program representative visited one of her classes. “I’ve watched seniors from my high school who are about to graduate and they don’t know what to do because they don’t have any guidance.”

The process is new to Brackin’s parents, neither of whom have college degrees. Her father supervises inmates at the Dallas County Jail and her mother does clerical work at a local school. Together, they make just enough to support Brackin and her two younger sisters.

“If you’ve never been through this process, it’s a hard one to break into,” her mother, Lisa Brackin said. “We’ve always said by hook or by crook our girls will go to school . . . but I don’t know how to help Briana. We’re walking blind here.”

Upward Bound, along with the federal program Talent Search, which provides academic, career and college counseling to high school students, are part of federal TRIO programs established in 1964 to combat poverty in the United States. Together, Talent Search and Upward Bound serve a third of low-income high school students who pursue higher education.

But now, Brackin and other young low-income women like her stand to lose that help.

President Bush’s proposed 2006 federal budget and the budget resolution passed by Congress in April both call for a cut of over $500 million in the Department of Education’s budget, the first reduction in federal spending on education in 10 years.

The cut would effectively eliminate Talent Search, which has a $144.9 million budget and Upward Bound, which has a $312.6 million budget.

The federal budget, now in appropriations–during which money is allocated to specific programs–also calls for the elimination of other programs. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), is a $306.5 million program that provides grants to help low-income students pursue post-secondary education. The $66.1 million Perkins Loan Program, which provides college loans to students from low- and middle-income families, and the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program (LEAP), a $65.6 million program that provides matching state and federal grants to college students, may also be cut.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education–who asked not to be
named–said the proposed budget calls for the elimination of Talent Search and Upward Bound because there is evidence some of the students served by the programs would have attended college without the programs’ support.

The proposed education budget calls for a new $1.24 billion high school initiative that would strengthen the quality of education, identify students at risk of dropping out and provide college preparation activities for students from low-income backgrounds.

In total, the half a billion dollars cut in the president’s proposed $56 billion education budget for 2006 represents a 0.9 percent decrease from 2005, a reduction the department attributes to “fiscal constraint combined with a solid emphasis on our priorities.”

Cuts Impact Female Teens

The budget cuts stand to particularly impact female teens.

“Since women make up a disproportionate share of low-income students, they will be particularly affected by planned cuts to the Perkins Program, TRIO and GEAR UP,” Jacqueline King, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., said.

About 61 percent, or 275,880, of the students who stand to lose the Upward Bound and Talent Search programs are female, according to the Washington-based Council for Opportunity in Education, which lobbies Washington for programs such as Upward Bound.

Female teens also make up the majority of students from low-income and minority backgrounds who pursue higher education.

Nationally, 56 percent of U.S. undergraduates are female. The highest female majorities occur in minority and low-income communities, where females make up 58 percent of undergraduates with family incomes under $30,000 and 60 percent of African American undergraduates, according to a 2003 American Council on Education report.

The percentage of minority women among college graduates first surpassed that of minority men in the early 1980s and has increased steadily ever since, according to the Department of Education. By 1999-2000, minority women received 14 percent of college degrees conferred and minority men received 9 percent.

‘Pink Collar’ Jobs

King said the reason the gender gap is more pronounced in minority and low-income communities is primarily economic.

“The job market for women who don’t have post-secondary education is really quite bleak,” she said. “Most people won’t even hire a secretary these days without at least some college background.”

King said while there are still more highly-paying blue-collar jobs in male-dominated fields such as construction and manufacturing, the so-called pink-collar jobs filled by women without post-secondary education are largely in retail, often paying minimum wage salaries without benefits.

“It’s an added push for women to attend,” she said.

First College Degree in Her Family

Teresita Alvarez, who grew up in a low-income Mexican community in Carson, Calif., became the first in her family to earn a college degree when she graduated from the University of California at Berkeley earlier this month.

Alvarez stresses that it’s still tough for women from disadvantaged backgrounds to make it to college.

“I grew up in an extended family that has a lot of strong women and, to me, being educated means being able to take care of my family,” Alvarez said.

Referring to the trend of more females from low-income and minority backgrounds pursuing higher education, Alvarez said, “I don’t know if I would say it’s easier for women. In the community I come from; it’s harder for families to let go of girls to leave the home and pursue other opportunities.”

Maureen Hoyler, executive vice president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, says the budget cuts will leave female teens across the country without a lifeline to higher education.

“The budget resolution really suggests that currently Congress is not paying much attention to the future of young women,” Hoyler said. “If we don’t make more opportunities available rather than less, we will increasingly become a more stratified society.”

Hoyler hopes the budget appropriations committee will salvage the endangered programs with funds from other sources. Still, Hoyler said, finding the funding will likely mean cuts elsewhere in the education department.

“There’s going to be blood on floor, whether it’s Upward Bound and Talent Search or another educational program.”

Kara Alaimo studied Journalism and Gender and Sexuality at New York University. She works in press relations for the New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.

For more information:

Department of Education–
Federal TRIO Programs:

Council for Opportunity in Education:

American Council on Education:

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