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June 14, 2007

Pitt loses Upward Bound program

Pitt’s Upward Bound program has failed to make the cut for renewed funding by the U.S. Department of Education.

The college preparatory program, which had been offered at Pitt since 1968, ended in May when the funding expired. It served more than 100 high school students a year through the School of Arts and Sciences’ Academic Resource Center, offering tutoring, counseling and other support to help eligible students from Pittsburgh Public Schools prepare for and succeed in college.

Qualifying students came from families where neither parent had earned a four-year degree. “We were giving them the chance to be the first in their families to go to college,” said University Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Robert Hill. “The students who went through became solid, productive, contributing citizens.”

According to Hill, in the most recent reporting period, 2003-2006, all of Pitt’s Upward Bound participants graduated from high school, 90 percent went to four-year colleges, and the remainder went to other post-secondary schools or the U.S. military.

Pitt’s application failed to score above the cut-off point in competition for the federal funding said Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Babyak, who said the program always has new applicants and that it is not unusual for a program that has been funded for many years to be edged out.

Applications are judged on the need for the project, its proposed objectives, the quality of its operation plan, qualifications of the program’s personnel, institutional and community support, budget and cost-effectiveness and the plan to evaluate program outcomes.

Competition for the funding is held every four years. This year, there were 988 applicants for a total of $265.7 million in funding. Of those, 775 applications were funded.

Babyak said awards are based on the average score given an application by three readers not employed by the federal government. Existing grantees may receive up to 15 bonus points based upon how well they achieved the objectives included in their funded application, for a maximum score of 115 points.

“We are required by law to award grants in order of the scores received by the applications in the review process, plus bonus points. Accordingly, the total scores are put in rank-order (high to low), and awards are made beginning with the highest score until all available funds have been used,” she stated.

The cut-off score was 92, said Babyak, who would not reveal the University’s score.

Hill also would not discuss Pitt’s score, but said it reflected a misunderstanding about the region’s need for the program. He said that N. John Cooper, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, intends to write to an official in the Department of Education to explain the University’s position. “The dean does plan to reinforce that point,” Hill said. “We do believe they could benefit by understanding that there is a need in Pittsburgh to serve this target audience. We intend to be heard and we hope that appeal will have an effect.”

Babyak said there is no appeal process for programs that are not re-funded. “We believe such a process would be unworkable and would defeat the intent of the statute in that we could not make awards until all the appeals were adjudicated. In addition, if an appeal was successful we would have to remove the applicant with the lowest score from the funding slate. The applicant would then most likely appeal. The process would never end,” Babyak stated.

In the prior four-year round of funding, the University was awarded $472,325 per year. Pitt will be eligible to reapply in four years and Hill said the University intends to do so.

Of the program’s four staffers, director Brian Hines will remain for a time to tie up loose ends, two have left the University and one was reassigned in Arts & Sciences, Hill said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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