Senator Jon Tester is criticizing new U.S. Education Department policies that could put college out of reach for more Montana students.
The department's Upward Bound initiative helps prepare high school students through a summer program where they take classes on a college campus. Upward Bound focuses on first-generation college students, students from low-income families, and students from rural areas.
But the Education Department recently changed its criteria for awarding Upward Bound grants, costing up to 270 Montana students the chance to go to college. Tester said the department's "new priorities" hurt students in rural states like Montana.
"Hard-working Montanans deserve the opportunity to go to college and improve their quality of life," Tester said. "Making it harder for more Montanans to get a college education hurts our economy and doesn't make sense. The Education Department needs to get its priorities straight."
In a bipartisan letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Tester said that he was concerned that rural areas were "hit disproportionately" by the new policies. Tester noted that all but two tribal schools lost their Upward Bound funding.
"We urge you to review the latest competition and ask that your staff provide detailed information," Tester and his colleagues wrote.
In 2005, nearly 78 percent of all students who participated in Upward Bound immediately went to college, compared to 38 percent of low-income, high school seniors nationwide.
Tester and fellow Montana Senator Max Baucus announced in May that five Montana schools would receive Upward Bound grants. Those schools will still receive Upward Bound assistance.