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ACU awarded $1.4 million grant to help local students

The U.S. Department of Education announced Aug. 9 that Abilene Christian University will receive a federal Talent Search grant of $1,438,050 to help low-income students who would be the first members of their families to earn degrees. The grant’s five years of funding will help 518 Abilene-area students each year find their path to college.

“We are looking forward to another five years of encouraging students to succeed in post-secondary education,” said Gayla Herrington, director of the TRIO Talent Search program at ACU. 


As part of ACU's TRIO Talent Search STEM camp this summer, 11 Abilene-area students visited NASA. Other parts of the camp included classes on rocketry and robotics.

ACU’s TRIO Talent Search has been funded four times over the past 20 years and has helped more than 1,500 students in the Abilene Independent School District prepare for and enroll in college. TRIO Talent Search is 100 percent federally funded by the U.S. Department of Education to serve 518 students annually in the amount of $287,681 per year from 2021-26 with the stated goal to increase the number of youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who complete high school and enroll in and complete their postsecondary education.

To achieve that goal, the Talent Search program identifies and assists middle and high school students who have the potential to succeed in higher education. At least two-thirds of the students in each Talent Search program are from low-income economic backgrounds and families in which neither parent has a bachelor’s degree. Talent Search provides these students with information about college admissions requirements, scholarships and various student financial aid programs so they can better understand their educational opportunities and options. 

“As systemic inequality and financial hardship discourage students from succeeding in college, TRIO programs like Talent Search take on new importance because they continue to help students who are low income and first generation to earn college degrees,” said Maureen Hoyler, president of the nonprofit Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) in Washington, D.C. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 80 percent of Talent Search participants enroll in post-secondary institutions immediately after high school graduation. In FY20, more than 309,000 students were enrolled in 473 Talent Search TRIO projects in the U.S. Many Talent Search alumni have gone on to great success, among them former U.S. Congressman Henry Bonilla from Texas and former Oklahoma State Senator and State Representative Kenneth Corn, one of the state’s youngest in history.

Talent Search began in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s War on Poverty. It was the second of eight federal TRIO programs authorized by the Higher Education Act to help college students succeed in higher education. It recognizes that students whose parents do not have a college degree have more difficulties navigating the complexity of decisions that college requires for success, bolsters students from low-income families who have not had the academic opportunities that their college peers have had and helps remove obstacles preventing students from thriving academically.

ACU also is the recipient of three other Federal TRIO Program grants: Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, Student Support Services and Upward Bound. 

— Wendy Kilmer

Aug. 27, 2021

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