This is the transcript for Season 2, Episode 13 (APril 10th, 2019) of the “Title IV + More Podcast for Utah Counselors and Educators” from Katie Wornek, Jacob Newman, and Bryan Lee at StepUp to Higher Education Utah.

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Please be advised that the FAFSA and federal student aid are subject to change. While we ensure all the information we share in each episode is accurate at the time of the episode’s release, our statements are not insulated from future changes. If you have questions, we encourage you to call us at 801-869-5701 or  email us at outreach@utahsbr.edu.


Katie: Welcome and thank you for listening to StepUp Utah’s Title IV + More Podcast for counselors and educators. This podcast is brought to you by StepUp to Higher Education Utah – helping Utah’s students and parents prepare and pay for college. Find more about us at StepUpUtah.com.

Jacob: Welcome, listeners. I’m Jacob Newman and I’m a paying for college expert with StepUp Utah.

Katie: And I’m Katie Wornek, also a paying for college expert with StepUp. I’m going to kick off our episode this week with some news coming out of the Utah System of Higher Education, or USHE. They conducted a study using USBE data – Utah State Board of Education – as well as data from the National Student Clearing House. And they found that Utah students from low-income families participate in college at rates nearly 15% lower than their peers. It was found that low-income students, which is defined based on their free and reduced lunch eligibility – the first year out of high school, 38% of these students enrolled in postsecondary education, compared to 53% of their non-low-income peers. Luckily, each subsequent year beyond graduation, so again this study looked at the first year beyond graduation and then continued on – each year after that, more students from all socioeconomic classes enroll in college in general, but as we look at the gap of enrollment, the gap between low- and high-income students still remains about the same, it never closes. So if you’d like to read the full report, you can visit higheredutah.org to read this. But I just wanted to give those highlights and kind of have a round table discussion about what this means for counselors and educators across the state.

Jacob: You know, this is really interesting because we know that there are so many benefits to pursuing a postsecondary education, whether that be a one-year certificate, two-year degree, four-year degree, whatever that looks like. But we also know that financial barriers can be such a huge barrier to accessing higher education. And so, for particularly for these low-income families, we also know that a lot of these students are not filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and we know that this plays a huge role in accessing higher education. The National College Access Network, for example, has a study that they’ve conducted where they’ve determined that 90% of those that complete the FAFSA in their senior year of high school enroll immediately after high school graduation compared to 55% of non-filers. And I actually just read this morning that students in the lowest income quartile – they did a national study as well, the National College Access Network – and students in that low-income, in the lowest quartile, were 127% more likely to enroll if they completed a FAFSA.

Katie: Yea, and so the literature shows time and time again that the number one reason that students don’t attend college, or the reason they stop out of college classes is financial hardship. And so there’s this catch-22 that we’re seeing where it’s really hard to get ahead financially in today’s labor market without a degree or certificate, but these students also feel like, “Hey, I come from a low-income family and I can’t afford this.” So that is, to echo your sentiment, why it’s so important that low-income students, especially the ones that we know are going to qualify for need-based aid, are completing the FAFSA. If you have undocumented students who cannot complete the FAFSA but do find themselves in a low-income family, there are also resources out there to help them pay for college and the biggest one is private scholarships. So, if you have questions about where to find private scholarships for your undocumented students, we actually did an interview with the Dream Center at the University of Utah. That’s our episode from March 28th, so you can check out our podcast archives and take a look at that if you’re interested. They actually put together quite a bit of data for scholarships for undocumented students, not just at the University of Utah, but across the state.

Jacob: Awesome, and with that, I’m going to move on to our upcoming events that we have. So, just to make you aware, it’s getting close to the end of the school year, so we have quite a few things coming up. First of all, our FAFSA Cup – which is a professional development grant that we offer to counseling teams that incentivizes counseling teams to demonstrate their best practices that they use to encourage FAFSA completion. The deadline to apply for that is next week, which is April 15th, so get your submissions in so that we can reward you with that professional development grant and lunch with us. Another thing to be aware of is our StepUp to College Costs Scholarship deadline is also next week, which is April 15th. You can find the rules and the details of that scholarship on our website – www.stepuputah.com. Also, for those of you who are thinking to next year, for your FAFSA completion programming, if you’d like to have a FAFSA completion open house sponsored by the StepUp team, essentially where we help you with the logistics and we provide resources and assistance, make sure you submit your fall 2019 FAFSA completion event requests by May 3rd. This takes a lot of coordination for us to put these together. We partner with financial aid offices, we partner with other college access entities to make sure that you’re going to have coverage and training for your events, so we usually spend most of the summer preparing for this, so get those in by May 3rd so that we can have that ready.

Katie: Regarding those volunteer hours that we get from the financial aid offices, Jacob, I actually had to put together a presentation for the financial aid directors at all of our colleges and universities a couple of weeks ago. So I found, I dug up some data about all of our volunteer work that we received last school year – or this current school year, last fall – for our FAFSA Nights. The colleges and universities sent staff members to about 91% of our events, which is really impressive. We estimate that was about 550 hours of work that they just donated to our programming, to the schools themselves. And we kind of did just for fun a low-ball figure of what we thought that might mean in terms of salaries and travel to kind of calculate what that in-kind donation is. And we estimate that that is at least $10,000 worth of work that they’re donating to make these FAFSA Nights possible. So, just a big shout-out and thank-you to all of our colleges and universities.

Jacob: And with that, we will move on to our guest interview with TRIO at the University of Utah.

Jacob: Alright, for our guest interview this week, we are at TRIO at the University of Utah with Chris Macias and Luis Lopez. Chris Macias is the Academic Coordinator for TRIO and Luis Lopez is the Academic Advisor for TRIO. Thank you for joining us.

Luis: Thank you for having us.

Chris: Yes, thanks so much.

Jacob: Alright, so to get us started, can you tell us a little bit about the history and purpose of TRIO?

Chris: Sure. And I’ll start with this – one of the first things that we get asked all the time is, “What does TRIO stand for?” And the reality is that it is not an acronym. TRIO is a reference to series of three programs that were started in 1964 and officially implemented in 1965, which were Upward Bound, which is a high school college access and college retention program; Student Support Services, which is a program for students once they reach college to help retain them, to help them graduate. And lastly, a program called Talent Search which was for middle school students through college to find those who already have that talent, already have that potential to succeed in college and higher education and give them the necessary resources. So those were the first three that were started until there were a TRIO of programs, and that’s where the name came from. And so now we have grown to eight different programs nationwide in many different universities all across the different states. But we stuck with name TRIO. So, like I said, it started in 1964, officially implemented in 1965, signed by Lyndon B. Johnson. And we’ve been doing college access for first-generation, low-income students ever since.

Jacob: Awesome. So what schools here in Utah participate in TRIO?

Luis: So that’s going to look a little bit different. Our TRIO programs are federally funded and so different universities across the state will have TRIO programs and depending on whether they are, say, Student Support Services or Upward Bound or McNair, we serve in different schools. Here are the University of Utah, Student Support Services provides support for students who are enrolled here at the University of Utah. Upward Bound currently serves West High School, East High School, Kearns High School, and Highland High.

Jacob: Awesome. So what are some the successes that your program has experienced?

Chris: Well, as far as successes – first of all, being a nonprofit organization that’s funded by the Department of Education and being in existence for 50+ years is a huge accomplishment overall [laughs]. We unfortunately, many times, have been on the chopping block from different legislations from Congress saying, “Is this program really necessary? Because there are other ways to promote college access and college things like that at the state level.” But we fought that many times and said, “Yea, we need the Department of Education support and funding to continue helping these students that may not otherwise have the resources to do it.” So I think, first of all, just existing still is a great success. And locally, here in the state of Utah, having the support of many different parties, both Republican and Democrat and everything else in between, supports TRIO because 1) it’s legislated, and 2) because we’re getting first-generation, low-income students and students with disabilities into higher education. So for the most part, it is being supported and we actually had to do a lot of work to get that to happen. So now days, it’s just a matter of pulling up and talking about our successes, talking about our programs, talking about our goals being met so that the support continues. But even more locally, aside from the state level, is that here at the University of Utah, we are part of the Student Affairs division and they promote our programs, people understand what TRIO does, understand the difference between Upward Bound and Student Support Services for the most part. And we get recruitment being done for us as well, so the university is very supportive of us, Student Affairs division is always backing us up. And, if I may take down even one more level, just our students themselves, I mean, I personally love working directly with students. I love seeing them meet their own personal goals of getting to college and those who are in Student Support Services, you know,  staying in and graduating from college. And just seeing that cohort after cohort of student by student, to me, is a personal success. As a whole, it ties to just the entire history I just mentioned.

Jacob: Yea, I love that. That in-school support can’t be overstated. I feel like a lot of students, you know, they get to college and sometimes it’s a little bit overwhelming so it’s really great to have that support service in the school as well. So, tell us a little bit more about how TRIO helps Utah students prepare and pay for the costs of college. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the nitty gritty.

Luis: Definitely. So, with Upward Bound specifically, it’s imbedded into our programming is scholarship searches, how to write personal statements, how to fill out the financial aid applications, and so we provide that type of support. It’s not limited to something that’s directly through TRIO or through ASPIRE, which actually Chris can expound a little bit more on that support.

Chris: Right. So, as I mentioned, TRIO is a national organization. And so we’ve had to divide ourselves into different sub-regions of the national organization, so the region that we belong to is called ASPIRE, which is the Association of Special Programs in Region Eight. Which means we’re the 8th region. And we have different states working together to find scholarships at the regional level, to promote each other’s programs, to support each other’s initiatives, so even though we work at the state level, as a whole, we don’t compete with other universities. At different states, we still have that organizational structure to advocate at a national level for our TRIO programming at the Department of Ed. So ASPIRE is the one who really promotes the scholarships and promotes the funding source and kind of distributes that to our students.

Jacob: Awesome. So, what are some other opportunities that TRIO provides for students beyond kind of some of the things you mentioned so far?

Luis: Yea, I mean, the biggest thing I think TRIO programs across the board provide is support and that sense of community, which is key for student success. Here in Upward Bound, our main thing is college prep. And we pride ourselves in finding an individualized plan for each student so we recognize it’s a little different for everybody, whether they want to come straight to the University of Utah, go out of state, go to a community college. And so, college prep is the main opportunity as well as we do internships during our summer academy, we do community service, we like to look at holistic approaches that universities are taking and make sure that our students are well-rounded and experienced, that way they’re competitive when they’re applying to these schools. So there’s some of the opportunities.

Chris: And if I can expand just a little bit about what Luis mentioned – for the summer academy, that’s one thing that Upward Bound offers that I have not seen replicated in any other program. And that is what we call, like said, Summer Academy or summer programs. So what that is is we bring high school students in schools that we serve to the University of Utah to live on campus for six weeks. They stay here residentially, they eat here, they live here, they go to classes. We do offer credit for the courses that they do take. They participate in guest lectures, they participate in workshops about financial aid, about personal statement writing. They do the internships Luis mentioned, just all the things to immerse them in that full college experience while they’re still in high school. And they do that every summer from their incoming 9th grade year – the day they finish 8th grade – all the way to their summer between high school and college. And then they transition to Student Support Services program. And then if they do, if they continue that and they do well of course, they can transition into another school that has a TRIO program called McNair for graduate students. So the whole idea again, like I said, is to immerse them into that full college experience, give them that taste of what college life can really be like, and then pipeline them into the next program, and into the next program…And so I think these are some of the opportunities that aren’t as available in other places. There are great programming and other support services as well in the state of Utah, nationally, but I think this one’s very unique to upward bound.

Jacob: Awesome. So how can students and parents get involved in the program?

Chris: So, in TRIO, because we are grant funded, we have very specific guidelines that we have to meet, and unfortunately parental involvement is not something that’s stated on there. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do it. We believe in the research that parental and family involvement is going to only aid in the student’s support and student success. So, of course we do that anyways. So our parents join us here at the University of Utah and we talk about the same thing that students are learning each month thematically. And so it could be, this month we’re focusing on scholarships, so we have a scholarship parent week. It could be we’re talking about financial aid, we have financial aid parent week. Things like that. Of course, we’re also open and available to students and parents at all time to come and talk to us, to join us. We have parents here in this very room just discussing how they can help their students. We provide materials, we do work locally with StepUp, for example, to get some of their materials, the Utah College Advising Corps, wherever we can to bring the whole family together. We invite them to all our events, you know, just the basic things that have to be done. And of course, within the Student Affairs division, we try to get that support more than just for the programs themselves in Upward Bound, but from the University of Utah itself.

Luis: Let’s say for students that aren’t currently in our program but would like to reach out about participating, if you’re one of primary target schools, we are there once a week. So, just to throw it out there, you know, Kearns High, Monday after school we’re there. Tuesday’s West, Wednesday’s East, and Thursday’s Highland. Of course, you’re always more than welcome to come up to the University of Utah to our TRIO office where we can be found working but also hanging out a little bit and probably bumping some hip-hop or something, so, students are more than welcome to reach out to us.

Jacob: Anything else you want to add or anything else you wish counselors or educators knew about the TRIO programs? Any final thoughts?

Chris: Sure. TRIO loves to partner with as many people as we can. Like I said, we understand that it takes many people involved to have a student be successful. So we’re open to creating more partnerships through general college information sessions, outside of our target schools, meeting students. Even though we can’t actively recruit from school that’s not in our grant, we’re still happy to go out and talk to people, put workshops together. We have many, many interests that we can tie back to college. Like we mentioned, we talk about hip-hop all the time, we talk about art, we talk about music in general. Just so many different things that we know are relevant to student and are interesting to students. So if they can start thinking about college differently than just applications and just paperwork to do. So, yea, we love to partner with people. We love to be in the community. And TRIO works.

Jacob: What’s the best way to contact you if students or parents, counselors, educators have questions?

Chris: Yea, the easiest way is to simply visit our website, which is trio.utah.edu. On our website, there has links to both our Upward Bound program, our Student Support Services program, and to our regional organization where you can find all the different services that we offer to your schools or local universities.

Jacob: Awesome. Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us today.

Chris: Thanks so much for having us. We appreciate the opportunity.

Katie: Thanks, Jacob, for that guest interview. I am so happy that we had TRIO on the program. We are such big fans of all the work that they do for their students, especially helping those first generation students navigate the process of higher education. So now we’re going to move on to our FAFSA tip of the week and we’re going to feature a segment about income and asset verification on the FAFSA. So, if you didn’t already know, we actually just produced a series of short videos. You can find them on our YouTube channel, youtube.com/stepuputah. And these videos explain some of the most common FAFSA verification scenarios that your students will encounter. So if you need help, or if your students need help, you can check these out, once again, that’s youtube.com/stepuputah. Today we want to highlight the information that we cover in video #1, how to verify income and assets. The most common document financial aid offices are going to ask for when verifying income – household income – is a signed copy of the student’s or the parent’s tax return. And this requirement actually became a little more lenient this year. Colleges used to require a tax return transcript from the IRS instead of accepting a copy of the original tax return. But back in January, the Department of Education released new guidance allowing colleges to start accepting a signed copy of the original 1040, so it’s a little bit easier in a lot of circumstances for students to get that as opposed to a transcript. However, if a student or a parent can’t find their original tax return, it’s ok. They can still order a copy of their transcript on IRS.gov. Finally, if a student responded that they participate in a means-tested government program, such as, for example, if they receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, they might need to provide documentation or sign a statement pertaining to their receipt of that government assistance. And remember, the verification process varies from school to school, so if you have additional questions, it’s best to have the student directly contact the financial aid office at their college or university to get those questions answered. Next episode, we will continue our coverage of common verification issues by discussing verification of dependency status.

Jacob: Thank you for joining us this week. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to reach out to us. We are always happy to implement any of your suggestions that you have and we will see you next time.

Katie: Thanks for joining us.

Katie: StepUp to Higher Education is an outreach initiative of the state of Utah that empowers 8th-12th grade students and their families to prepare for college. We believe every Utah student should pursue education after high school, whether that be a 1-year certificate, a 2-year degree, a 4-year degree, or beyond that. We provide programs and resources to encourage college prep and success, as well as training and materials for school counselors like you. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Title IV + More podcast for counselors and educators. You can find more about us, order access and outreach materials, or request a StepUp Utah event at your school at StepUpUtah.com. And last but not least, be sure to follow us on social media. You can find us at Facebook.com/StepUpUtah, also on Instagram and Twitter by searching for “@StepUpUtah”. You can also follow our Outreach Officers on social media as well. Just search for “@StepUpKatie” and “@StepUpJacob”.


Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on iTunes

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Please be advised that the FAFSA and federal student aid are subject to change. While we ensure all the information we share in each episode is accurate at the time of the episode’s release, our statements are not insulated from future changes. If you have questions, we encourage you to call us at 801-869-5701 or email us at outreach@utahsbr.edu.