University Relations and Communications

Helping Students Succeed, a 50-year Upward Bound Legacy

October 8, 2014



Dan Benge, Upward Bound, 657-2179
Florence Garcia, City College, 247-3010
Carmen Price, University Relations, 657-2269


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES —  Florence Garcia was full of angst as she packed her bag for a six-week Upward Bound summer camp at Eastern Montana College. The camp was some 300 miles away from her home in Wolf Point, and would mark the first time she had ever left home.


Dr. Florence Garcia

The shy, high school sophomore knew she was embarking on a journey that could change her life forever. At stake was a chance to be the first of her family to attend college.


That was 46 years ago—long before she became the associate dean of City College at Montana State University Billings— yet she remembers it like it was yesterday.


“Upward Bound came in at the very perfect time for me,” Garcia said, beaming while describing her experience. “I always thought high school was the finish line. But, Upward Bound changed that and opened so many doors for me in terms of experiencing the world.”


Now in its fiftieth year, Upward Bound is an outgrowth of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration’s War on Poverty and is one of several college access programs known as TRiO that emerged from the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 in an effort to remove barriers to access and success in post-secondary education.


In its first year, Upward Bound served 2,061 high school students with 17 pilot programs, according to the Council for Opportunity in Education. Last year, the program served about 76,000 students at more than 1,000 locations in 50 states.


Designed to build access to higher education for high school students who are low-income or first-generation, Upward Bound has opened doors for more than 2 million students.


Those doors were first opened to Garcia when her high school guidance counselor handed her the program application. She was told that if accepted, she’d join other students around the nation in preparing for college through tutoring and other academic services. She’d be required to participate in the intensive six-week residential summer camps held on the EMC campus as well participate in after-school programs in Wolf Point.


Before that pivotal day in 1967, Garcia didn’t think college was an option for her. It wasn’t because her family didn’t value education. On the contrary, the importance of education was instilled in her and her eight younger siblings at a very young age.


“Even though my mom and dad didn’t go to college, they were very intelligent people who saw how education changed lives,” Garcia said.


While she had the moral support of her parents on her side, she faced the many disadvantages that often prevent high school students from having access to higher education, such as poverty and being a first-generation college student.


Her mother worked at a diner as a waitress and her father laid bricks, and they struggled to make ends meet for their nine children.

SOS/TRiO collage“They were very, very hard working people,” Garcia said. “We had no running water, but my mom always made a home for us no matter how tough times would get.”


And, being an American Indian woman in the 1960s was a unique challenge in and of itself, Garcia said, who is a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes.


“The home and community I come from provided me with a sense of spirit and culture, both values that are amazing gifts,” she said. “But there were also challenges that existed there, such as alcohol abuse, poverty, and health problems that affect Native people at a disproportionately higher rate.”


Despite the obstacles—or perhaps because of them—Garcia continued her high school years in Upward Bound and became the first in her family to graduate college.


Some of her Upward Bound peers went on to careers in healthcare and law. Florence Garcia became an educator.


“I loved education so much, I asked myself, ‘why not share that with others?’” she said.


She received her bachelor’s degree in 1974 in secondary education and her master’s in 1980 in special education, both degrees from what was then EMC and is now MSU Billings. She earned her doctorate in adult and higher education from Montana State University in Bozeman in 1999.


She has worked as a teacher, a dean of student services, and, most recently before joining City College, served for two years as the president of Fort Peck Community College.


Garcia’s connection to Upward Bound never wavered. She served as TRiO Student Support Services director at both MSU and MSUB as well as at Dawson Community College during her career. In 1984, she was named a National TRiO Achiever.


“It’s a small program that does really big things,” she said. “It impacts people far beyond data and numbers.


There are five Upward Bound programs statewide and roughly 400 students served each year. Of those, MSU Billings serves 75.


That is down from nine programs just two years ago following a five percent federal budget cut, resulting in loss of services to 245 students in 20 high schools, 28 percent of whom are Native Americans.


The decision to limit funding was clearly not based on Upward Bound’s effectiveness as a program. In fact, the Education Department’s data have shown that more than 75 percent of all students who participate in Upward Bound programs go on to college after high school.


“Unfortunately, the program only serves about six percent of the eligible population,” MSUB Upward Bound Director Dan Benge said. “But we do a lot with the resources we have and are a good return on the investment.”

Benge said Upward Bound students are 50 percent more likely to attain a bachelor’s degree than their counterparts. And some, like Gracia, go on to graduate programs, he said.


Across from Benge’s office desk hangs a photo collage of his Upward Bound students, spanning his 17-year career as the college’s program director.


“As I look at all these Upward Bound success stories, there is a common theme with each,” he said. “It’s always that one person, that one happenstance, that changes and impacts a life forever.”

For Garcia, that one happenstance was Upward Bound.


“I’m sure I would not be here if it weren’t for Upward Bound,” she said. “In fact, I might not be here at all.”


Related Story: Billings Upward Bound students gain experience, confidence for college:


For more information about Upward Bound, visit


“This administration, today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. It will not be a short or easy struggle. No single weapon or strategy will suffice. But we shall not rest until that war is won.” — President Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union, 1964


PHOTO ABOVE: Dr. Florence Garcia was among one of the first Upward Bound graduating classes. Today, as City College’s associate dean, Garcia strives to find innovative approaches to enhance academic excellence and student success, especially for those of minority and nontraditional groups.