University of Minnesota
Philip Binns volunteers at an after-school program of Pillsbury United Communities in North Minneapolis, not far from where he grew up.
-Photo by Greg Helgeson.
Legacy of a Dream
Philip Binns has a clear memory of the day in 2005 that Upward Bound, a federally funded college preparatory program for low-income and educationally disadvantaged high school students, came to his house. He was a ninth grader at North High in Minneapolis. His family had plans to go to the gym together, and that didn't happen every day. But when an Upward Bound staff member knocked, his mother opened the door.
"We were filling out forms and I was thinking, 'I could be at the gym right now!'" Binns remembers.
Upward Bound never let up. For the next four years, it brought Binns to the University of Minnesota after school at least one day a week—more when his grades slipped. It also allowed him to earn an "I Have a Dream" scholarship, created as an incentive for low-income Minnesota kids who are participating in Upward Bound to graduate from high school and then college.
Fulfilling a Dream
Students in Upward Bound at the U who graduate from high school become Dream Scholars. Wherever they enroll, their "I Have a Dream" Scholarship is put in escrow and paid out as each year of college is completed. A total of 460 scholarships have been awarded since 1991.
The first two years of "UB" did not look promising. Binns, naturally quiet, preferred to fly under the radar, whether at school or the U.
"I felt like quitting—I actually failed sophomore English," he admits. "I saw it as a chore. My parents made me do it."
Through Upward Bound, Binns came to the campus each summer for rigorous classes in English and math, introductory Latin, and ACT prep work.
The "I Have a Dream" scholarship encouraged his parents, too.
"I kept talking to him about the bigger picture," says his mother, Verna Binns. "It was a huge stepping stone."
Slowly Binns started thinking about the future.
Today TRiO has eight programs nationally that serve more than 840,000 low-income and first-generation college students and students with disabilities. More than 15,000 of those are at 29 sites in Minnesota.
In 2009, Philip Binns entered the University as a Dream Scholar participant in Student Support Services. Like Upward Bound, Student Support Services is a component of TRiO, a series of innovative efforts that began with the Educational Opportunity Act of 1964 to address the social and cultural barriers to education. Once at the U, a whole new world opened up for Binns. He explored career ideas, made friends, took racquetball, and used a break to learn Spanish during a three-week program in Mexico. He got an A in public speaking.
When Binns declared a youth studies major, he began to volunteer. Over the past three years he has tutored fourth graders in math and high school juniors and seniors in history and English. This year he works with grade-school kids in an after-school program not far from where he grew up.
Stay in school, he tells them. Don't do drugs. Now in his senior year, he's aiming for graduate school in public health.
Closing the achievement gap
Joyce Bell first heard about Upward Bound from a friend in the late 1980s.
Unlike Philip Binns, Joyce Bell did not come from a family that supported her academically. School was an escape, and Upward Bound became a lifeline, especially in the summers she spent in and around the U.
"More than anything I needed a place to belong and a place to feel safe," says Bell.
She didn't know anyone who had gone to college, but with Upward Bound assistance and the promise of a Dream Scholarship, Bell applied near and far. She attended the University of St. Thomas, eventually returning to the U for a doctorate in sociology. In one of the most competitive academic job markets ever, Bell was hired at the University of Georgia and then got a tenure-track job at the University of Pittsburgh.
Bell has been asked how she did it. Once in a graduate school course, the professor challenged her argument about poverty and education by asking, "What makes you able to do it and not them?"
"What I can say without a doubt is that I didn't have any more drive than most of the people around me, I'm not any smarter, I wasn't destined to go to college, I didn't have any magical bootstraps to pull myself up with," Bell says. "I had intervention. I had Upward Bound…I had people and programs in my life that pointed out opportunity and made it clear how to take advantage of it."
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was adapted from Connect magazine, a publication of the College of Education and Human Development. Read the full story.
Generation Next Partnership
Learn more about the new public-private partnership the U of M joined to address the achievement gap crisis in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region.