MISSION – Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) along with officials from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) announced the institution will receive $2.7 million this year and possibly more than $13.9 million over the next five years for students preparing for college.

Founding President for UTRGV Guy Bailey said the grant represents an opportunity for students from the Rio Grande Valley.

The funds come from Upward Bound grands from the U.S. Department of Education as part of the TRIO Program.

“What this will do, it will provide our students with a mentoring, with preparation they need to go to college,” Bailey said. “Many first generation students, it's not that they cannot do the work, they do not know how to apply for financial aid, they do not have any assistance in SAT, ACT prep and they don't know what to do to get into college.”

The President of UTRGV said these kinds of resources are transformative in the students' lives which in turn is transformative for the Rio Grande Valley.

The Upward Grants start with children in middle school and high school by giving them the assistance they need to prepare to go to college. Long gone are the days where if students plan to attend college they cannot wait until they graduate from high school.

“Once you graduate from high school it's pretty late to get started,” Bailey said.

At UTRGV 68 percent of students are Pell Grant eligible which means there is little family contribution to the student's education. About 80 percent of those students pay no tuition or fees.

Bailey said they serve a large underserved population which is the mission and goal of UTRGV. Programs like the Pell Grant and Upward Bound grants make rank the university second in the United States of students graduating without student loans. Twenty-five percent of students graduate with some debt.

“Think about this,” Bailey said. “Three-fourths of the people graduating from UTRGV have no debt, we're very proud of that and we work hard to keep it that way.”

The TRIO program is expected to continue for five years which means more than $13 million will be allocated for UTRGV. Of the first year funds $257,500 will be given to students from Rio Grande City High School and La Grulla High School and $627,548 will be for students from Mission High School and two other local schools.

“Education changes lives and every child in my district deserves the opportunity to strive for college,” Congressman Cuellar said. “I fought for these funds to give the students in my district at Rio Grand City High School and Mission High School, as well as students throughout South Texas, the resources they need to attend a great institution like UTRGV.”

Cuellar continues to be committed to working in the Appropriations Committee to ensure funding continues for five years so students can take advantage of the program.