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Northern Vermont University Welcomed Upward Bound Students Back to Campus

NVU Upward Bound Programs Celebrate Five Decades of Improving Student College Access and Success

High school students, 117 in all, returned to Northern Vermont University campuses for in-person Upward Bound programs this past summer. The students came to the Johnson and Lyndon campuses from seventeen area high schools for a mix of day and residential experiences, all with the goal of building the skills and confidence that will help each to access higher education and succeed in college.

Upward Bound is a federally funded program that works with students from modest-income families without experience with higher education. This summer marked the start of the program’s fortieth year on the Lyndon campus, and the fiftieth year on the Johnson campus — which also holds the designation as the oldest continuously funded Upward Bound program in Vermont.

“The Upward Bound college preparatory program has been the best thing to happen to me in my academic life,” said Grace K. from Missisquoi Valley Union High School. “The exposure to college life and new experiences has been a source of valuable knowledge, not to mention creating life experiences I will never forget.” For Maple S. from Lamoille Union High School, “The social aspect of UB was welcoming and friendly, and then the academic and college preparatory part of the program was beyond helpful.”

Upward Bound grew out of the U.S. Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 in response to the War on Poverty, and falls under the umbrella of TRIO, a series of federally funded programs that support different populations of pre-college and college students.
“Upward Bound gives kids a college-going culture that did not exist for them before, and gives them a leg up on the college process,” said Tony Blueter, director of Upward Bound at NVU-Johnson and a first-generation college student himself. “About 90% of the students who complete the Upward Bound program go on to college right away. Of those, between 70%-75% graduate from college within six years.” In contrast, Blueter says, the national average graduation rate for first-generation students from modest-income families who have not participated in Upward Bound is in the low 20s.

“The students who take part in Upward Bound are motivated, their families are motivated, and their schools are supportive,” said Rick Williams, director of the program on the NVU-Lyndon campus. “Our students are well-prepared for college and they thrive in these experiences,” Williams said. He added, “80% of Upward Bound students who go on to college at NVU graduate.”

While each Upward Bound program operates independently according to the specific school populations they serve and the way each grant is written, all programs offer a comprehensive and rigorous year-round college-preparatory experience. Each program accepts a specific number of new students from the schools served and, as Williams said, is “responsible for them” throughout their high school years. Participating students grow to be as committed to the program as the Upward Bound staff are committed to them. “Most kids grow to think about the staff and their peers as extended family members,” Blueter said. “They are definitely not a number here.”

With Upward Bound, students take part in college tours throughout the region and beyond, in service-learning experiences, college preparation classes, academic support, practice and coaching for PSAT and SAT tests, field trips throughout the year, and the social-emotional support that comes from working with a group of people who really get to know you.

Sometimes the kids “feel like imposters,” Blueter says, and they wonder “how did I get here?” But he can relate, as he remembers college preparation “was foreign territory” for him as well. That’s where the program comes in. “You need those people in your life who will give you a thumbs up,” he said, “who let you know that college is possible and will give you the tools to stay focused and work hard.”

Prospective Upward Bound students are nominated by teachers and guidance counselors, with student eligibility based on family income and/or first-generation status. Students complete an application and interview and then program staff meet with the parents to confirm their support before the student begins.

In total, the two programs on the NVU campuses have worked with approximately 6,000 students over the years. The NVU-Johnson program is funded to work with 102 students in seven area high schools: BFA-St. Albans High School, Enosburg Falls High School, Lamoille Union High School, Missisquoi Valley Union School, North Country Union High School, Peoples Academy, and Richford JR/SR High School. The NVU-Lyndon program is funded to work with 75 students from ten area high schools each year: Blue Mountain Union High School, Craftsbury Academy, Canaan Memorial High School, Danville High School, Hazen Union, Lake Region High School, Lyndon Institute, St. Johnsbury Academy, Woodsville High School (NH), and Rivendell Academy.

To celebrate the NVU-Johnson program’s fiftieth anniversary, Upward Bound staff are producing a video — 50 Stories for 50 Years — and invite program alums to submit a testimonial of their experience and how it helped shape their path to college and beyond. The video will be shared at the program’s anniversary celebration in December. Please contact Tony Blueter at for more information.
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