"Its really a national problem," said Kathy Glampe, director of the campus Student Support Services. "The demographics are shifting, and if low-income students arent prepared, they are not going to have equal opportunities."
Last year, St. Olaf students produced over 1,000 letters in support of the TRiO programs. Each year, more than 200 St. Olaf students volunteer as mentors, interns, tutors and summer employees with the campus Educational Opportunity Programs. The hands-on knowledge provided by the programs allows students to experience careers in teaching, social services and other professional fields.
Each year, the TRiO programs spend approximately $250,000 on campus and employ 50 student workers as tutors and office assistants each semester and during the summer.
As many St. Olaf students say, college preparatory programs like UB have greatly influenced them.
"They make you think itll pay off, that college is an investment and not an expense," said Ying Lor 09, a past student of GEAR UP, ETS and UB. "Every summer for four years we spent here at St. Olaf taking classes, preparing for college life. To lose programs like these, I see it as cutting out potential students from their goals and dreams. They really help those that need it."
After the St. Olaf-run GEAR UP, ETS and UB programs, approximately a quarter of the high school graduates come to St. Olaf afterward.
"We dont recruit for St. Olaf, but a lot of our students come here," said Katie Olives, director of UB.
St. Olaf has become an educational refuge for many low-income minority students.
"Being a Hmong girl, I had never been away from my parents before," said Pa Kou Vang 09, a four-year UB participant. "My parents are not educated, and they encouraged me to go to college, but they didnt know how to help me. UB opened another path for [a student like me] to take rather than getting married and finding a job."
Glampe echoed that TRiO gives students opportunities.
"This isnt just a fight for students in the program," she said. "Voicing opportunities for low-income people is necessary because they dont always have the means to advocate for themselves."
The fight to save TRiO is ongoing, and letter writing campaigns to state representatives will take place this week in Buntrock Commons and Flaten Hall.