Penn State receives grants to work with middle, high school students

Over five years, $4.7 million in grants will allow Penn State to expand its Talent Search Program

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has been selected to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education that will allow the University to expand its Talent Search Programs, providing staff who work directly with disadvantaged middle and high school students to help them complete high school and attend college.

The University is receiving $934,560 a year for five years — a total of about $4.7 million — in grants to run Talent Search Programs in eight school districts across Pennsylvania, serving at least 2,000 middle and high school students a year. The funding will support three Talent Search Programs — a new one in McKeesport and renewed support for two others. Those programs serve students in Aliquippa, Clairton, Farrell, New Castle, New Kensington-Arnold, Sharon and York. Penn State first received funding for Talent Search in 1992.

With Talent Search, Penn State places counselors in the schools where they work with academically promising students who are from economically challenged backgrounds and often the first in their families to attend college. Students receive counseling on course selection and tutoring, and help in preparing for college entrance exams and completing college and financial aid applications. Students also receive counseling in financial and economic literacy.

Penn State Vice Provost for Educational Equity Marcus Whitehurst said that historically, students from economically challenged backgrounds might not receive information early in the process that helps them stay on track to complete a college degree. This program is in keeping with Penn State’s goal of creating access opportunities for all qualified students.

“We feel creating a pipeline for students who come from economically challenged areas should be a mission of any institution focused on educating the future leaders of our country,” Whitehurst said. “We want to be part of transforming the lives of students who have the academic potential to attend college, but who may not have the resources available to help them pursue a college degree or an awareness of the opportunities that are out there.”

At least two-thirds of the students in Talent Search are the first in their families to complete a bachelor’s degree and are considered economically disadvantaged, with incomes below 150 percent of the poverty level.

Of students who participated in Penn State’s program in York in 2015, 97.5 percent graduated from high school and 77.8 percent enrolled in postsecondary education. The University Park-based program that serves Aliquippa, Clairton, Farrell, New Castle, New Kensington-Arnold and Sharon saw 100 percent of students graduate in 2015 and 78.3 percent go on to postsecondary school.

Stephen Holoviak, senior director of the Talent Search Program at Penn State, said that by putting a counselor in each high school, that person is connected to the community and the students. He said that also will happen at the program being started in the McKeesport area.

“The program is designed to eliminate hurdles for students. We work with students in sixth through 12th grade, and start talking with them about going to college early on,” Holoviak said. “Our entire team is excited about this program. I’m in my 18th year, and one of the students, who was in sixth grade when I started attended Penn State, worked in our office as a work-study student and is now pursuing a Ph.D. It’s very rewarding to see our students succeed.”

Twelve staff members currently run the programs, and an additional two will be hired to provide services in the McKeesport area. Penn State provides the services at a maximum cost of $460 a student for the programs.

Talent Search is part of the U.S Department of Education’s TRIO programs, which were started in 1964 to help individuals from families with limited financial resources who would be the first in their families to attend college and earn a bachelor’s degree. There are 459 Talent Search programs nationwide, including 11 in Pennsylvania.