Upward Bound grant restored for University of Montana | Local

The University of Montana will receive money to support first-generation college students and ones from low-income families through Upward Bound, after initially being denied a grant due to a clerical error, according to news releases.

U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines announced Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Education will grant UM $356,313 for June 1, 2017, through May 31, 2018. UM had applied for $1.7 million through 2022, and Tester’s office confirmed the campus would receive the full amount over five years.

In an email, UM’s Darlene Samson said she was thrilled that Upward Bound could continue to help students who need support.

“I am so excited for students to have the opportunity to return to the program, but even more so that a new cohort of students will have access to opportunities that help support their education,” Samson said. “It’s been quite a difficult time for the director (Twila Old Coyote) these last several months, but on the positive side, the support from Senator Tester and his staff was phenomenal as well as Senator Daines.

“Now on with the difficult task of rebuilding the program and serving students!”

The Department of Education initially rejected applications from UM and dozens of other colleges based on minor formatting errors. UM had failed to double-space a single page — the budget page — of its 65-page submission.

The decision to fund Upward Bound grants came after pressure from Congress, including communications from both Montana senators.

In an earlier letter to the department, Tester praised Upward Bound for its “near 100 percent” high school graduation rate. The Democrat also noted that some 75 percent of its students enroll in college, compared to 27 percent of students with similar backgrounds nationwide.

“We’ll give them kudos,” Tester said in a phone interview with the Missoulian on Wednesday. “It was the right decision to make. (But) the truth is, you’ve got to use better common sense on this from the get-go because who suffers in these deals? The kids. That’s who suffers.”

Daines had spoken with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos over the phone in May and praised the reversal Wednesday. 

“At long last the Upward Bound Program is receiving the funds it requested on the merits of their application,” said Daines, a Republican, in a statement. “The qualification for federal dollars shouldn’t be discarded for simple formatting errors — that is federal bureaucracy at its worst.

“I’m glad to see the Department of Education make it right and these funds going to the right place.”

In a phone call, Tester said the reversal is positive, but the long time it took to fix the mistake showed Secretary DeVos’ inexperience. According to UM, some 55 students weren’t able to attend a canceled summer program because of the delay. 

Tester said a similar situation occurred roughly one month ago with FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the fix took just four days instead of months because the agency has a good director.

“The problem is when you have programs that are left in a lurch, they can’t plan, they can’t program, they can’t move forward to maximize the dollars,” Tester said.

Although the senator said he was pleased with the news Wednesday, the earlier red tape the department strung still stuck in his craw. At the same time, he said the bottom line is college students in the program will continue to benefit.

“If we want to build our economy and move our economy forward and move people out of poverty, this is a pretty critical program,” Tester said. “I’m glad the secretary came to her senses and funded it.”

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment late Wednesday afternoon.