The TRIO Programs

A woman wearing a graduation cap and carrying her diploma after participating in one of the TRIO programs.

michaeljung /

TRIO Programs are federally funded programs that provide assistance to underprivileged or disadvantaged students (first-generation students, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities) starting in middle school and continuing through the completion of college and other postsecondary education.

The TRIO Program didn’t get its name until the late 1960s, when it was made up of three separate programs. Each initial program, however, came about at a different time, starting in 1964 with the Upward Bound Program. This was created as a direct result of the Economic Opportunity Act, which was intended to eliminate poverty by expanding opportunities to all people, as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.

One year later, in 1965, the Talent Search Program was added as part of the Higher Education Act. The Higher Education Act was also signed by President Johnson, and it increased the amount of federal money given to colleges and universities. With the intention of strengthening the postsecondary educational system in the United States, it created student scholarships and loans.

In 1968, the Student Support Services Program (originally called Special Services for Disadvantaged Students) was created when the Higher Education Act was reauthorized by Congress. With the addition of the Student Support Services Program, the name TRIO was born. Five other TRIO programs were added between 1972 and 1990, but the name was retained.

All eight TRIO programs are described below.

  • Upward Bound Program (1964): This program is aimed specifically at low-income and first-generation students, and it follows them while they are still in high school through the completion of their postsecondary education. Students are given access to tutoring, counseling, and mentoring programs while they are in high school and provided with information about colleges and financial aid when they are considering their academic futures.
  • Talent Search Program (1965): This program begins before students are in college. It identifies promising students as early as middle school and helps them graduate high school, begin college, and finish college. Students may be assigned a mentor, provided with counseling and tutoring services, or given information and assistance on financial aid or college applications.
  • Student Support Services Program (1968): In this program, institutions compete for money that can be used to provide services to participating students. This includes tutoring services, advising, help finding and completing financial aid applications, counseling for vertical transfer students, career counseling, and increasing access to off-campus cultural events.
  • Educational Opportunities Center Program (1972): Aimed at adults, this program provides admissions counseling and information for those who are considering starting or returning to college as older students.
  • Veterans Upward Bound Program (1972): Unlike the other TRIO programs, this program is aimed solely at veterans. Many veterans enter the service immediately after graduating high school and do not complete a college education. This program intends to increase the number of veterans who are entering and completing college programs by providing counseling, mentoring, and tutoring services to former service members.
  • Training Program for Federal TRIO Programs Staff Program (1976): Though not for students, this program is an important part of TRIO and provides funds to institutions for training the staff who work at the schools as part of the TRIO program.
  • Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program (1986): Through this program, institutions compete for money that can be used to help students prepare to continue past the undergraduate level and attain doctorate degrees. Students who are McNair scholars are given opportunities to complete research projects and internships, help in finding a PhD program, and access to other educational resources.
  • Upward Bound Math-Science Program (1990): Like the Upward Bound Program, this program provides tutoring, counseling, and mentoring to students in high school and college. Instead of broadly addressing academics, tutoring is focused on math and science only, directing students toward STEM degrees and professions.
A group of students holding their diplomas and wearing graduation gowns

Tyler Olson /

All TRIO programs aim to increase the number of underrepresented, underserved students who are graduating from high school, enrolling in college, and completing postsecondary education by providing support that is not already given to them.

TRIO programs are offered at middle and high schools and postsecondary institutions across the country. Contact your guidance counselor or the director of the TRIO program at your (prospective) college for information on becoming a TRIO student. Colleges may not allow students to apply after their freshman years due to the popularity of the program and limited funding. In order to qualify for TRIO programs, students must meet certain eligibility requirements (low-income, first-generation, disabled, or veteran).

Currently, to qualify as low-income, annual family income must not be any more than 150% of the federal poverty level. This chart shows the maximum income levels for 2016 based on location and family size. A student may qualify as first-generation if one of the following applies: neither of the student’s parents (by birth or adoption) has received a bachelor’s degree, a parent with sole custody of a student has not received a bachelor’s degree, the student is/was in the foster care system, or the student is/was homeless. In order to be eligible for TRIO programs based on disability, the student must have a documented physical or learning disability. Finally, in order to be eligible as a veteran, students must have served at least 180 days on active duty or have been released from active duty as a result of a military-related disability. Students cannot have been dishonorably discharged.

Once part of the TRIO program, students are required to make academic progress and maintain active participation in the program each year. This may consist of creating a résumé with the help of a career counselor, participating in retreats or workshops with other TRIO students, or meeting with an advisor. The TRIO program is here to serve students who want to succeed in school despite the obstacles stacked against them, so talk to a guidance counselor if you qualify. Your future will thank you for it!

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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