UTSA wins millions to increase college access in the region (TRiO/ETS)

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Friday, August 20, 2021

AUGUST 20, 2021 — TRiO Educational Talent Search (ETS) projects within the UTSA College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) secured over $5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education to improve college attainment in targeted middle and high school students over the next five years.

The university’s efforts will be focused on target schools in Crystal City, Uvalde, Eagle Pass, Brackettville, and San Antonio that were selected based on the need for additional support for potential first-generation college students and those from lower-income households.

The project supports UTSA’s strategic vision to increase access to higher education of the highest quality. In this grant, UTSA project directors have developed and written the proposals internally to guide programming they oversee in the target schools.


“Our goal is to work in partnership with schools to support every student’s educational aspirations in high school and beyond.”



The funding will support over 1,800 students annually across San Antonio and its surrounding rural communities.

“Underrepresented students encounter many challenges when seeking college opportunities. These barriers include financial limitation, limited advising, attending under-resourced schools, and a lack of understanding about college since many students are first-gen,” said Abel Gonzales, UTSA director of Instructional Outreach Programs (IOP). The office houses five TRiO college access and readiness projects and UTSA’s dual credit program. 

The project is divided into two service areas.

Tracie Burt, director for UTSA’s ETS projects, will oversee the ETS-Southwest which includes 1,330 students. Alejandra De Hoyos, project director of Upward Bound, will oversee the ETS-San Antonio area which represents 600 students. She will also oversee programming for participants in grades 6-12 in 15 participating schools.

The new financial support pays for program leadership at UTSA and for staff who work directly with students and administration in the middle and high schools within communities served by the projects. Additionally, the award will cover advising, tutoring, financial aid awareness, assistance to complete the FAFSA and college applications, and help to identify and pursue scholarship opportunities.

The funds will also be utilized for financial literacy programs, like budgeting; personal development (including mental health issues), career exploration (such as STEM opportunities), computer coding, professional development (including interview strategies and resume writing tips), college tours, and cultural opportunities usually not available to students because of limited access.

Such schools also demonstrate significant need indicators, such as low persistence and graduation rates, low test scores, challenging counselor-to-student ratios, and community demographic variables related to poverty and low educational attainment. Having a low number of students in college-credit programs, such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, is also considered a key need indicator.

Regardless of these challenges, UTSA follows a model that focuses on how cultural wealth and experiential knowledge empower students to rise above socioeconomic circumstances on their path to becoming college graduates. Underrepresented students, especially TRiO participants, flourish when others believe in them and provide affirmation, support, and encouragement.

“Funding for the highly competitive ETS proposals is primarily determined by how clearly the target schools’ needs are demonstrated and how well the proposed programming supports attaining key objectives,” Burt said.

The ETS objectives are to increase secondary school persistence and graduation, augment the proportion of students graduating from a rigorous secondary program of study, and lead greater attendance for both post-secondary education enrollment and six-year post-secondary attainment.

“In addition to demonstrating need and proposing appropriate programming, this year’s competition was so competitive that additional point-earning opportunities were critical to strengthen proposals,” Burt added. “The necessary score for funding would not have been attained without including empirically supported interventions in proposed programming and demonstrating how objectives were met by previously funded grants.”

ETS is one of an array of federal TRiO programs serving primarily first-generation college students. Other TRiO programs include Upward Bound for secondary students, Student Support Services for undergraduate college students, Educational Opportunity Centers for adults, and the McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program for graduate students.

Since the mid-1960s, federal TRiO programs have helped millions of underrepresented students attend college and complete postsecondary and graduate degrees.

UTSA’s TRiO programs alone have served thousands of middle school, high school and college students over the past decade. Staff, mentors, and tutors answer questions for, limit discouragement in, and provide enriching opportunities to equip students as they face college and financial aid application processes and transition into and across higher education.

“Our goal is to work in partnership with schools to support every student’s educational aspirations in high school and beyond,” De Hoyos added.

At UTSA, college access and readiness TRiO programs like ETS and Upward Bound are a component of Strategic Educational Partnerships within the COEHD. These partnerships are integral to UTSA achieving its full potential to advance higher education access and increase college completion for students in and around San Antonio. The reach of TRiO ETS projects encourage innovative programming through partnerships with school districts, benefit communities through greater integration with the university to collaborate and expand access to higher education, and promote social and economic transformation for the region and its citizens.

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Story by Milady Nazir