PROSPER ACT NOT PROSPEROUS FOR STUDENTS — Lynn Jenkins, US Congresswoman Kansas 2nd district talks with Valon Jones, ICC and Nicci Wiltse, Neosho County Community College, when she met with area colleges to discuss their concerns with congress funding of the TRIO programs. Steve McBride | Staff Photo
PROSPER ACT NOT PROSPEROUS FOR STUDENTS — Lynn Jenkins, US Congresswoman Kansas 2nd district talks with Valon Jones, ICC and Nicci Wiltse, Neosho County Community College, when she met with area colleges to discuss their concerns with congress funding of the TRIO programs. Steve McBride | Staff Photo

Independence Community College played host to Lynn Jenkins, Kansas US Congresswoman, 2nd district, as she made a quick visit to hear from the area community colleges and their concerns about congressional proposals circulating in congress. "We have an opportunity to work really hard on education issues between now and the end of the year for all of you and I'm here for you to tell me what I need to know so I can serve you (colleges)," said Jenkins. 

The area colleges in attendance were Independence Community College, Neosho Community College, Labette Community College, Coffeyville Community College and Wichita State University. Though there were a variety of topics briefly discussed, the main topic of concern the colleges wanted to address was the PROSPER Act. 

The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, proposes many reforms to the Federal TRIO programs (TRIO) that if enacted would endanger students ability to secure and/or retain TRIO program funding in the future. 

The TRIO program consists of the Upward Bound program whose goal is to increase the rate of which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from a program of postsecondary education. The Student Support Services (SSS) is intended to increase graduates of low-income, first generation college students and the 

Talent Search program is an outreach program to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have potential to succeed in higher education. 

Under the PROSPER Act some of the provisions will threaten the TRIO programs by requiring institutions to have to match 20 percent of federal funds with their own money which could hurt students who are in need of financial aid. Most community colleges, especially in southeast Kansas, serve low-income, first generation students and students with disabilities that do not have the capacity to meet a matching requirement.

It was also mentioned in the group that a provision in the PROSPER Act essentially punishes colleges that invest their own money in their programs to help students. However, it must be mentioned the PROSPER Act does provide some positive provisions such as "Pell Bonus" grants of an additional $300 for students after they complete 15 or more credits per semester. The act would also eliminate original fees on student loans and would attempt to simplify the government's student loan program.

"The affect of this act on the TRIO program would be devastating. We're talking about southeast Kansas and the amount of poverty in this region and the low college bound rate. This is the epicenter for generational poverty for the state. These programs give students the opportunity to think about going to college for the first time. With what this act presents to the colleges, financially, we must determine whether we can keep these programs or not," a member of Labette Community College stated. 

Preston Haddan, Labette Community College (LCC), Talent Search project director, said, "I have grown up in this area and seen the increase in the poverty level. If we didn't have the TRIO programs we would have so many young people that would not even give college a second thought and we would have a higher dropout rate from high school. Southeast Kansas needs these programs badly and if the PROSPER Act is enacted it is going to cripple these colleges if we have to start coming up with the money to fund them."

Valon Jones, ICC Upward Bound director, said,"Trio and the Gear Up programs focus and expose students to college. We take them to college campuses and that is an important part of the TRIO program to show students they can go to college. We are there for people who are serious about going to college, getting out of their situation and showing them going to college is a reality and how to make it a reality and affordable through the TRIO program." 

"In the documentation on the PROSPER Act one of the points they make is they are considering not funding Student Support Services by stating, 'There is limited evidence of effectiveness of these programs.' If you look at the Department of Education's website it will tell you persistence for students in the TRIO program exceeded that of those students that were not. I don't see how someone in congress can say there is limited evidence that proves otherwise. It clearly shows how these programs benefit the students. These are the students we want to see break the cycle of poverty, get a good job, bring back their education to their communities or start a business. 

"I don't know where they were looking for evidence and saying the administration believes these services could be provided by programs on the campuses without funding, they are wrong," said Dan Barwick, ICC president. 

As the meeting came to a conclusion, Jenkins told the group she will be taking all the information she gained during the brief encounter and make a point their voices are heard and the facts are presented to the Congressional body before any decisions are made on the PROSPER Act.