50-year Wittenberg program to lose funds because of double spacing

Upward Bound students and alumni gathered in Blair Hall at Wittenberg University to talk about the program and what they think of the federal government rejecting Upward Bound’s grant application because of a typing error. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
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Upward Bound students and alumni gathered in Blair Hall at Wittenberg University to talk about the program and what they think of the federal government rejecting Upward Bound’s grant application because of a typing error. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

A spacing mistake on a grant renewal application has threatened funding for a 50-year-old Wittenberg University program that has helped thousands of local students attend college.

Upward Bound is a federally-funded pre-college preparatory program for high schoolers from first-generation college and low-income families interested in pursuing higher-education.

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Wittenberg’s program could lose funding because of the mistake in the 65-page grant request that violated a double-spacing rule that requires “no more than three lines per vertical inch,” including text in charts and tables, according to the rejection letter from the Department of Education.

“The Wittenberg program is decades in running and has always scored well,” U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, a Miami County Republican, said. “Secretary (Betsy) DeVos is aware. Hopefully we can get it fixed.”

With 77 other Upward Bound programs also affected by similar technicalities, the programs are rallying and have gained U.S. House and Senate support.

Davidson, who represents Ohio’s 8th District, which includes Springfield and Clark County, has formed a bipartisan coalition of 32 representatives who sent a letter to DeVos requesting that she reverse the grant rejections.

“Simply throwing out 77 schools is the height of the bureaucratic system run amok,” said Davidson.

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Eddie Chambers, Wittenberg’s Upward Bound director, hopes it can be worked out by May 31, when the current funding ends.

“It really is a race against time for our program,” said Chambers, who has been involved for 40 years.

The Wittenberg program, which has served about 3,000 students since its inception, has 75 active students currently.

Grants are awarded based on five-year increments, worth $504,000 a year. There are about 1,600 schools competing for grants this year, with 850 that will receive the funding.

Chambers was stunned to receive the rejection notice in March while at a Chicago airport.

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“I almost missed the plane,” Chambers said, holding back tears and his voice cracking from emotion. “This was unintentional on our part. To think we’d be rejected after all these years for that. Our performance reports have always been top notch.”

Chambers found there was no appeals process.

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Not discouraged, Chambers reached out to other Wittenberg leaders, and they contacted state political figures.

They enlisted the support of Davidson in the House of Representatives and a similar bipartisan Senate movement that includes Ohio Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, who also are reaching out.

“This has resonated across party lines,” Davidson said. “Doing things like this is what unites us.”

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The Wittenberg students and their families wrote letters to DeVos.

Several expressed their feelings, with the younger students especially frustrated, as some have siblings gaining college degrees due to their Upward Bound experiences, and they’d like to have a similar advantage.

“This has come right in the middle of my high school experience,” said Deja Eckler a Springfield High sophomore. “Having it would help with scholarships. This program can change somebody’s mind.”

The students talked about how this has been more than just academic, but socially rewarding, and some have been encouraged to join new groups they wouldn’t have considered before.

Chambers said others can help the program by writing DeVos in support of this being overturned.

“We’ve got to beat the bushes with the utmost speed and apply pressure to the Department of Education,” he said. “With the help of the Springfield community and our representatives, we can turn the around and the battle can be won.”

Chambers said he is working with Wittenberg to secure funding to keep the program going through the summer.

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