FAIRFIELD, AL (WBRC) - When Reginald Reese describes his first year at Alabama A&M University, he can't help but smile.
"It went well. It went well. I've got a really great professor. I've got great friends. All my friend's got 3.8, 4.0s," he said.
And as for his GPA, it's a 3.5.
"I actually got a 3.8 this semester," he said, after a little prodding.
His modesty is just part of who he is.
But his success during his freshman year in college is due in big part to attending Upward Bound at Miles College for all four of his high school years.
"It began under the Lyndon Johnson administration. Johnson was a teacher," explained Miles' Upward Bound Director Dr. Shirley Ellis. "It was an effort to attack the war on poverty. It started in the 60s and Miles College was one of the pilot programs—the very first in the nation."
Participants can start as young as 13 years old and have to have been promoted to the ninth grade.
To qualify, the U.S. Department of Education says students must be low-income with academic need and neither of their parents can have finished a four-year liberal arts college.
"These are high school students who are college-bound—who are college-bound. They want to go to college. They get a real feel for what it's like to frequent a college campus so that once they attend college it's not so much a shock to them. It really helps to increase their success ratio," Ellis said.
Participants must attend Saturday classes during the fall.
Most of them are core classes such as English, math and language arts.
During the summer, there is a six-week residential component where students live on campus and continue taking courses.
"The curriculum is set such that they feel they're in college although they're taking high school classes. The classes are set to mimic a college curriculum."
Ellis says many times they have a waiting list and retention is good.
She says this Summer, 81 students were excited to begin their on-campus stay when in late May she received devastating news.
"We learned on May 30th, the program would not be funded and the start-up day was June 1st. I can truly say their hearts were broken. Not only the students, but the parents. We were devastated," Ellis recalled.
The program is funded through a grant provided by the US Department of Education.
"This was a funding year and we had to write a grant application. They are for five years. So this would have started a new grant," Ellis said.
She says there is a section of the grant called objectives where the school must determine quotas they can meet objectives based on the statistics of the area they represent.
For Miles, that area is Fairfield, Midfield and Bessemer.
As an example, Ellis explained that in the application, Miles set a goal that 90 percent of the high school seniors participating in their program would graduate from high school.
"We had about 15 seniors last year. We reached 100 percent and that has been the goal for us throughout my tenure here. But they said that was too ambitious and unattainable," Ellis said. "Rarely do we fall less than 100 percent, rarely. These stats we have met, can meet and will meet and succeed. Failure is not an option for many of these students. That's what Upward Bound is for. That is what we do."
She says the college scored perfectly in every area except that one.
That's why she and her team have written an appeal to Education Secretary Betsy Devoss.
"There was a disconnect in the readers' review. And we feel that decision should be looked at reviewed, and addressed accordingly. We hope they will reconsider," she said.
She says it's too late to get the summer program back.
But it's her hope classes can resume in the fall.
"The community has reached out to us. I have former Upward Bound students as far as Hawaii, Los Angeles, New York who are calling and they want to help, they're concerned, they know the program worked for them and they refuse to see it end. Failure is not an option—it's just not an option. That's why we're upward bound," Ellis said.
Reese, who had hoped to return to the program as a mentor this year, says he is disappointed by the grant's denial.
But he has a request for those who are considering the appeal.
"Don't go off of a broad picture, but look at the small details that make a well-oiled machine run. And that's Upward Bound," he said
But Reese, who is in the Honor's Program at A & M, says the program goes beyond academics.
He says it shows students that someone cares about their success.
"Upward Bound is very necessary. To find people that care--ultimately, that's the biggest thing you want. For someone to say they care and want to see you do good, that's what it's all about."
WBRC has reached out to US Department of Education for more explanation about the grant denial.
We will let you know when we get a response.