TRIO History

History of the BCC TRIO Center

In 2020, the TRIO Student Support Services program of Berkshire Community College (BCC) celebrated an important milestone: 20 years of proud service to our students. You can find below information on the history of BCC, on the history of our TRIO program at the College, and a TRIO@BCC timeline!

  • History of the TRIO programs

    What is TRIO?

    TRIO is a set of federally-funded college opportunity programs that seek to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds in their pursuit of a college degree. Through its more than 50 years' history, TRIO strove to support the dream of education by all Americans, regardless of race, ethnic background or economic circumstances.

    The TRIO programs are specifically designed to assist modest-income, first-generation college students, and/or students with disabilities to successfully complete a postsecondary degree. TRIO programs direct support services for students in form of academic tutoring, personal counseling, mentoring, financial guidance, and other supports necessary for educational access and retention. TRIO also provides relevant training for directors and staff.

    The legislative requirements for all Federal TRIO Programs can be found in the Higher Education Act of 1965, Title IV, Part A, Subpart 2. The requirements for the SSS Grant Aid can be found in Public Law 106-554.

    Who? Where?

    More than 3,100 TRIO projects currently serve close to 800,000 low-income, first-generation students and students with disabilities — from sixth grade through college graduation. Thirty-five percent of TRIO students are Whites, 35% are African-Americans, 19% are Hispanics, 4% are Native Americans, 3% are Asian-Americans, and 4% are listed as "Other," including multiracial students. More than 7,000 students with disabilities and approximately 6,000 U.S. veterans are currently enrolled in the TRIO programs as well. TRIO federal legislation requires that two-thirds of the students served must come from families with incomes at 150% or less of the federal poverty level and in which neither parent graduated from college.

    Why is TRIO important?

    There is a tremendous gap in educational opportunity and achievement between America's highest and lowest income students, and low-income students continue to be left behind. This is a systemic inequity, one that happens despite similar talents and potential. While there are numerous talented and worthy low-income students, only 38% of low-income high school seniors go straight to college as compared to 81% of their peers in the highest income quartile. Then, once enrolled in college, low-income students earn bachelor's degrees at a rate that is less than half of that of their high-income peers — 21% as compared with 45%. Nearly 67% of high-income, highly-qualified students enroll in four-year colleges, only 47% of low-income, highly-qualified students enroll. Even more startling, 77% of the least-qualified, high-income students go on to college, while roughly the same proportion of the most-qualified low-income students that go on to college (ACSFA 2005).

    Abbreviated history of TRIO and the Higher Education Act

    The history of the TRIO programs began over 50 years ago with the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and a pilot program called Upward Bound. With the vision of Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty", and the collaboration of several leaders of the time, including, but not limited to, Martin Luther King, Jr. (listen to an audio clip of Johnson and King talking about the conception of these programs — begins at 2:04), foundational legislations (Higher Education Act) and initiatives (TRIO) were established. Later in 1981, the Council for Opportunity in Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering the expansion of educational opportunities throughout the United States, was created.

    Evolution of the Higher Education Act

    The Higher Education Act of 1965, within which the TRIO programs are legally contained, was reauthorized in 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1986, 1992, 1998, and 2008. The last comprehensive reauthorization was 2008, providing appropriations to programs through FY2014. However, under a variety of appropriations legislation and continuing resolutions, many HEA programs due to expire were extended beyond FY2015, most recently under the Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2019 and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2019. For a summary of the HEA early history, see:

    The Higher Education Act is the long-standing legislation that, at its base, acts to "strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary education". But one cannot see in the history of the HEA a simple education financial support effort. The legislation, from its inception, was designed to change the American society. The HEA preserved this original purpose throughout its history, and a historical examination reveals key shifts that, in turn, the HEA sought to implement or impacted the HEA policies.

    The 1990s introduced the GEAR UP federal legislation, and following on the federal policies of war on crime, the Aid Elimination Provision, which prevents students with drug charges from receiving federal aid for colleges and universities. This is where question 23 on the FAFSA forms originates from. Another new standard that was introduced during this decade was the requirement that universities make a good faith effort to encourage voter registration of students on their campuses.

    In 2003, the HEA was coming up for re-authorization under growing a push for minority representation in higher education. This pressure to improve service and financial support of diversity, inclusion, equity was led by the Alliance for Equity in Higher Education, a group formed by "the American Indian Higher Education Consortium", the "Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities", and the "National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education" an advocacy group for historically black colleges and universities. This push for greater representation and support for diversity resulted in little change in the legislation of 2008. The new HEA introduced some improvements for disability aid, significant changes to federal financial aid programs, Title VI, cost transparency, and a renewal of voter registration provision.

    The latest re-authorization of the HEA was introduced in 2017, with the PROSPER act, expansion of federal work study programs, weakening of LGBTQ protections, rollback of debt protection and voter registration provisions.

    TRIO: Original Three Programs

    The history of TRIO is progressive. Over the course of four years, from 1964 to 1968, TWO founding pieces of legislation and three federal programs were created, as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty. In 1964, the original War on Poverty statute was established: the Educational Opportunity Act, and with it, an experimental program known as Upward Bound. Upward Bound originally was designed to helps eligible people and veterans prepare for higher education. It was a first in many ways: the first program to disburse federal monies… federally-funded programs encouraged access to higher education for low-income students…, and the first program of what would eventually be known as TRIO. In 1965, a second act was established, the Higher Education Act, and with it the second outreach program for education opportunity: Talent Search. Talent Search programs serve young people in grades six through twelve by helping them to better understand their educational opportunities and options. In 1968, three things happened. First, the Higher Education Act was re-authorized for the first time. With this Higher Education Amendments, the third educational opportunity program was created: Student Support Services — originally known as Special Services for Disadvantaged Students. Student Support Services help students who are eligible to stay in college until they earn their baccalaureate degree. Lastly, Upward Bound was transferred out of the Office of Economic Opportunity into the Higher Education Act. At this point, "TRIO" was born, and the term was coined to describe these three federal programs, assembled under the same legislation. The TRIO programs were the first national college access and retention programs to address the serious social and cultural barriers to education in America. designed to assist low-income, first generation college students, and students with disabilities to begin and complete a post-secondary education.

    Growth of TRIO

    It took 22 years, from 1964 to 1986, to construct the current array of TRIO programs, and provide a wider range of services and to reach more students who need assistance. There are now eight TRIO Programs. In order of creation: Educational Opportunity Centers, Veterans Upward Bound, Training Program for Federal TRIO Programs Staff, Ronald E. McNair Post baccalaureate Achievement, Upward Bound Math-Science.

    After Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Student Support Services, and Veterans Upward Bound. Educational Opportunity Centers primarily serve displaced or underemployed workers by helping them to choose a college and a suitable financial aid program. The Veterans Upward Bound program provides intensive basic skills development and short-term remedial courses for military veterans to helps them successfully transition to postsecondary education. The 1976 Education Amendments authorized the Training Program for Federal TRIO Programs, initially known as the Training Program for Special Programs Staff and Leadership Personnel.

    In 1986, the fifth re-authorization of the TRIO programs added the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. This sixth TRIO program is designed to encourage eligible students to consider careers in college teaching as well as prepare for doctoral study.

    In 1990, the Department created the Upward Bound Math/Science program to address the need for specific instruction in the fields of math and science. The program provides students with a rigorous math and science curriculum in high school to encourage and enable them towards STEM college disciplines. In 1998, the Higher Education Amendments, introduced a small new initiative labeled the TRIO "Dissemination Partnership Grants", projects designed to leverage the best practices learned from the TRIO programs and extend them to institutions and organizations that do not have TRIO.

    Lastly, the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2001 amended the Student Support Services (SSS) program to permit the use of program funds for direct financial assistance (Grant Aid) for current SSS participants who are receiving Federal Pell Grants, during their first two years of college. This was the first time that a TRIO program could provide financial aid to its students.

    TRIO Student Support Services

    Student Support Services projects work to enable First Generation, Low-income students, and Students with a disability to stay in college until they earn their baccalaureate degrees. Participants, who include disabled college students, receive tutoring, counseling and remedial instruction. More than 202,000 students are now being served by 1,069 Student Support Service programs at colleges and universities nationwide. Recent studies of Student Support Services found that program participation resulted in statistically significant higher rates of student retention and transfer, improved grade point averages, and credit accumulation. Program participants also bested their similarly situated peers in degree completion at both two-year colleges (41% vs. 28%) and four-year colleges (48% vs. 40%).

    Main Sources

    For a detailed historical account of TRIO and descriptions of all programs and services, visit the Council for Opportunity in Education.

    The legislative requirements for all Federal TRIO Programs can be found in the Higher Education Act of 1965, Title IV, Part A, Subpart 2 [Higher Education Act of 1965 (MS Word) (217K). The requirements for the SSS Grant Aid can be found in Public Law 106-554.

    Secondary Sources

    Higher Education Act of 1965

    Carlton TRIO

    UW–Madison TRIO

    University of Arkansas TRIO

    What Does TRIO Stand For (PDF)

    Rutgers History of TRIO

  • TRIO@BCC Timeline
  • History of our TRIO Center


    TRIO Student Support Services was awarded to BCC in 2000 through a competitive U.S. Department of Education (USDE) grant award process and has received continued USDE funding since then. In August 2020, the TRIO funding was renewed through 2025, under the direction of Frederic Macdonald Dennis.

    The TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) programs began in 1968 as an initiative by President Lyndon Johnson. It is one of 8 federal higher education opportunity programs authorized by the Higher Education Act, to help college students who are low income, first generation or students with disabilities toward the successful completion of their postsecondary education. TRIO SSS recognizes the difficulty in being the first person to take the step towards a university degree, accompanies differently abled students during their academic journey, and opens academic opportunities to students whose family income put them at a disadvantage compared to their peers.

    At Berkshire Community College, John Paskus developed the first grant, with the external grant-writers that still work with BCC now. Since then, key figures of the program have brought it forward, securing continued funding through four more very competitive 5-year federal grant cycles, economic changes that transformed the Berkshires and the student population, national financial and health crises. The first TRIO coordinator, Patty Fathey Mullenary, took the first steps to develop TRIO at the College, hiring Peg Cookson as advisor. One year later in 2001, Patty handed the program to the new Director, Christine DeGregorio. Also in 2001, a new grants director came into position, Gina Stec. Gina has since that time been instrumental in the success of TRIO, guiding us to no less than four successful federal grant cycles competition: 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2020. Chris guided TRIO through 15 years of growth, until 2016 when Peggy Williams took over for two years. In 2018, Frederic MacDonald-Dennis arrived from Normandale Community College in Minnesota, where he had been the TRIO Director for the past three years. Under his new tenure, funding for the TRIO program was successfully renewed until 2025.

    Through the years, the TRIO BCC program supported between 160 and 165 students every year, with an extraordinarily successful track record of degree completion, persistence, students in good academic standing, and transfer to four year institutions. But TRIO became much more than an academic success program at BCC. For the students, it became a home, a place of care where a cohort of like-minded individuals could congregate, exchange knowledge, and support each other. For the institution, it became a reference point from which new understanding about the needs of our student population emerged, it became a point of reference showing the success of our educational model, and it became a crossroads of conversations between the different student support offices of the institutions. For the community, it became a reference of hope and engagement. TRIO students, through the years, crisscrossed the Berkshire arts centers, visited renowned Colleges of the region, engaged in social work, provided countless members of the medical community… Since its inception in 2000, this educational opportunity center has reached much beyond simple academics, into the very lives of our students, our institution, and our community.

    Start of TRIO, Shifts, Continuity of and Growth in TRIO's Objectives and Programs

    In 2000, the grant model that was pushed by federal organizations was that of a residential college. This four-year, residential model did not, in fact, match the population or the experience of Berkshire Community College students. Director Chris DeGregorio was therefore facing a daunting task of creating the BCC TRIO project in a manner that corresponded to our students' experiences, while at the same time matching federal funding parameters. In 1988, students at BCC were mostly traditional age without bills, full time students. But in the last 32 years, numbers and population type of the students changed dramatically. Today, half of our population are non-traditional students. Under the tenure of Chris DeGregorio, TRIO had so many non-traditional students that the center gradually changed its programing and developed new events on Saturday, with family activities. That was a big change, which went with other BCC initiatives, including a short-time day-care on campus (see abbreviated BCC history below). The short-term day-care was one example of inter-institutional communication: BCC changes were motivated by a practice of listening to the student population, and it was a lot driven by hearing the needs of TRIO students. Chris also had to create an entirely new TRIO cohort, as this 2001 year was the first full year of operation of the center. As part of the extraordinary effort to bring students into the program, a new "TRIO invitation" leaflet was created, with such success that it was awarded in 2002 a Gold Medallion prize from the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations.

    During the first decade of operation, the TRIO center slowly developed its programs, and established its core principles of operation, principles that still today are the foundation of the center: student support, community, care, and pride in education. Tutoring, academic support, life-skills workshops, transfer and financial advising, cultural events, TRIO talks, peer mentoring, these are the pillars of the program that gradually came into place over 20 years of continuous operation. Through these years, the financial model of TRIO varied slightly, sometimes relying on the College's participation, now solely reliant on the federal funding, and always seeking outside contributions to better serve our students. In 2005, TRIO received external funding from the Department of Education, for a total over three years of $750,350; in 2005 also, an auction was held in the Susan B. Anthony Center, with proceeds to go to TRIO. More recently, NASPA and the COE awarded a small grant to TRIO to celebrate First Generation students at the College. During this first decade of operation, TRIO students received a stipend, dependent on their participation to the center's programs. But in 2010-11, and later in 2015, major changes in funding happened. The staffing salary structure changed and were from this point on paid by the TRIO program alone, putting more pressure on the grant funds. In 2015, further financial changes happened, with budget cuts. Through these shifts in finances and student needs, TRIO had to adapt and change its offerings, to always maintain a high quality and range of opportunities for students, and keep the center as a welcoming home for its members. From 2011, TRIO had to re-think and pivot towards a different programing, more responsive to food and transportation insecurity, that had become core needs. Yet at the same time, the TRIO students still had a thirst for academic success, and pushed hard with the staff for a stronger tutoring structure, and continued programs celebrating graduation and academic successes. Throughout all the shifts and changes, one of the strengths of the programs has been to either anticipate the changes that were coming, or re-work the program to adapt to new situations and yet continue serving the same amount of students, providing an institutional home and high degree of care to them, throughout.

    The Fundamentals of TRIO

    During the first decade of operation, TRIO developed several programs and installed the core principles of student support, community, care, and pride in education that endure to this day.

    Student Academic Support at TRIO

    At the core of TRIO stand a strong program of academic support. From its start, a system of academic advisors provided support to students in mathematics, writing, and other academic domains. Tutoring in nursing has been available in key years, and the TRIO staff always brought their own expertise to the students. The arrival of Peggy Williams, who had taught in mathematics at BCC, corresponded with the development of mathematics tutoring for students. These elements of TRIO continued to this day.

    TRIO is a Community

    The TRIO program is built around the creation of a community, both inside and outside of the College, a community of students and supporting staff. As the former Vice President of student affairs Michael Bullock says: "When I think of TRIO, I think of it as a community. […] Right from the start, [we] decided that the most important thing was to build a distinctive community where people felt they belonged, and could get an array of student services and academic support."

    When speaking of the TRIO community, former members highlight four dimensions of importance: a sense of belonging, a space of safety and care, a place where everyone learns from each other, and a community that gave everyone the chance to discover and explore new paths, together. Director Chris DeGregorio offered one of the most forceful statement about this creation of a community, by pointing out the fact that building a sense of belonging within the TRIO student community was perhaps the foremost factor in student persistence. "We moved to a group sharing or a sharing of experiences. What we found was that the best support we could provide was to connect students with each other. Far and away above any contact that they could have with us its was the contact with each other that kept them in school".

    TRIO is also a unique space on campus. First it is a space where students can congregate at all times. Members of TRIO highlight this importance of having created a space where people feeling like they belonged, a space where our student community could share a meal, exchange information, meet friends. In the words of a TRIO alumni, "people just wanted a place to be … people wanted to be there… people wanted to have a safe place to be. And that is how we started thinking about the TRIO center, and making sure that students could connect in a place that mattered to them." The TRIO office space is also unique on campus, in the sense that it connects not only people, but also services. Students often face daunting issues whose solution cannot be found in a single college office. Think only of a student who decides to change a class: does this affect my degree (academic advising)? Does it affect my tuition (financial aid)? Is it the right choice (faculty)? Will it open new career opportunities (career center)? And there we are, with the student often left alone to start a long journey of running from one office to the next, never certain of how one answer impacts the others. The TRIO office, in short, stand by their students and accompanies them through these travels, standing in as a translator of sorts -guiding, introducing, orienting towards the right people, and when in need, offering a letter of recommendation to students.

    TRIO is a community where students are also teachers. Again, Chris DeGregorio said it best: "Not only did they learn from us, but we learned from them. Many of us came from first generation homes, but not necessarily understanding the challenges that these students brought with them. My students educated me." This closeness between the students and staff is based on the recognition that everyone in TRIO has something to offer, has a life experience and a knowledge to share. This is most evident in the peer mentoring programs that TRIO offers, where students, staff, and TRIO alumni all learn together, from each other.

    Lastly, TRIO is a place of discovery. Students fondly remember the numerous trips that were offered in the Berkshire and outside of Massachusetts. These opportunities brought a wealth of culture, access to new spaces and learning opportunities that many TRIO members might not have had without TRIO. Students still speak of going to see the Alvin Ailey dancers in Northampton, or visiting Washington DC's museums and top-tier universities. Whether trips to Boston or to southeastern Massachusetts shores, visits to the new North Adams' new MASS MoCA museum, visits to Smith College or MCLA, all these experiences truly extended the reach of BCC and built a community inside TRIO.

    TRIO Builds Communities within BCC and Beyond BCC

    Beyond the TRIO community, it is notable that the center generated connections throughout the college, as well as beyond the institution. One of the characteristics of TRIO is that it is both a center for students support, but also actively engaged with the faculty community. In this way, TRIO straddle academic affairs and student affairs. This is most visible through the many faculty and staff that refer students to TRIO. With the program, lines of communication and shared mission was reinforced between BCC academic affairs and student affairs. Through the years there has been a constant collaboration between departments. Similarly, links between students of the different BCC organizations are developed during the different trips. Lastly, many of the people that ran TRIO or oversaw TRIO have been in the position of also participating in, building, or overseeing the creation of other student support communities on campus. This allowed for TRIO model to influence other student communities, foster the enthusiasm around creating new homes for students, and allowed for the TRIO message to be spread around campus. Outside of BCC, the TRIO program has built successful relationships through the years, in support of students. For example in 2011, TRIO created a partnership with Community Legal Aid of Western Massachusetts. The collaboration allowed TRIO students access to legal counsel without having to interrupt their academic or work schedules.


    The program built the foundation of a great academic support, slowly developed a family, but it did not stop there. The center brought a level of care to all BCC students that impacted the institution as a whole. When a TRIO staff member started the clothing exchange project in 2005, this was originally for TRIO students, a small operation that then grew and reached all of the institution by providing clothing to students, notably during winter times. Such actions and impact continued, as TRIO became an important conversation partner and model for programs that provided BRTA transportation tickets to students, or highlighted the issue of food insecurity among the student population in a way that spurred the creation of the BCC Pantry.

    Pride in Education Achievement

    TRIO always celebrated student achievements at BCC. Starting before 2005, the TRIO Graduation Luncheon has been a fixture in G10, and continues to this day, in the same room, same building. Pride of our members' successes is also reflected in the presentation of TRIO badges, and offering bouquets to students at Graduation. Many of the students launch on a trajectory that is the first in their families, or battle financial hurdles throughout their time at BCC, or shape their learning to take best advantage of their abilities. All of our students achieve more than the average — and TRIO members takes pride in this success.

  • History of the College

    The BCC Library has researched and created a history of the College.