Trinity’s McNair program weathers funding shift

McNair scholars at Trinity will not face cuts in aid or alterations in program structure. Cause for alarm arose due to the Obama administration’s proposal that $10 million will be transferred from the McNair Scholars Program to the Upward Bound Program, which provides support for high school students in preparation for college acceptance.

It does mean that some highly successful programs on other campuses will shut down due to lack of funding. Numbers of McNair Programs will drop from around 240 chapters to approximately 127 chapters.

According to their website, the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program (McNair Scholars Program) is dedicated to preparing “well-qualified undergraduate students for success in doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.”

The proposal by the Obama administration is part of their 2013 Fiscal Budget, which has not yet been approved. The decision must pass through a “lame-duck” Congress.

Michael Soto, a professor in Trinity’s English Department and director of the McNair Scholars Program since its formation on campus, elaborates on the status of Trinity’s chapter and what Congress means for the future of higher education.

“If Congress does not pass a budget, the entire federal government will face drastic cuts in higher education. That will affect TRIO programs, including the McNair Scholars Program, in subsequent years. It will affect everything at Trinity””fewer Pell grants, fewer work study jobs, less money for scientific and other research through programs like the National Science Foundation,” Soto said.

Soto reference TRIO, which is a set of federal programs that perform outreach and student services designed to identify and provides services to students of disadvantaged backgrounds.

While no funding is being cut at Trinity in terms of the McNair Program, competition for grant funds has increased. Soto attributes Trinity’s retention of funds to the proposal drafted by faculty and staff.

When asked how many students are serviced by the McNair program at Trinity, Soto said the number is currently at 31 students.

“We have funding to serve 25 students, but we are serving more students than provided for. We anticipate serving 25 to 30 students per year,” said Soto, who anticipates doing some interesting things with the budget in the future.

Christian Tovar-Vargas, a sophomore and member of the McNair Scholars Program, is deeply thankful for the opportunity the organization has given him.

“Some of the opportunities that I have gotten so far include an introduction to the process of looking into grad school, getting to talk to professors about research interests and even learning about networking etiquette at an earlier time than most people,” Tovar-Vargas said.

He calls the program a “self-esteem booster” and is glad to hear the Trinity’s program retained all of its funding. He speaks of the environment within the program and the enthusiasm participants share.

Tovar-Vargas, who had the opportunity to conduct research with political science professor Katsuo Nishikawa over the summer, calls the program a “gateway to pursue our dreams.”

Soto says that each student receives $8,000 but that only $2,800 of that amount is directly given to them through opportunities like summer research. While Trinity has maintained its level of scholarship, other schools in San Antonio have not been so fortunate. Soto worries about the future of the McNair program at other four-year colleges in the city.

Applications to the McNair Scholars Program at Trinity are received during the recruitment process and determine student eligibility. More information can be found at