NAU receives $31.7M GEAR UP grant to continue effort to increase educational success statewide

GEAR UP services graphic

Sept. 10, 2019

Northern Arizona University was awarded a $31.7 million federal grant to continue a statewide outreach program designed to increase graduation rates and postsecondary attainment levels at 41 of Arizona’s high-poverty high schools.

The seven-year grant, which includes $31.7 million in federal money matched by $31.7 million from state partners, will fund the fourth phase of Arizona GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs). In combination with Achieve60AZ, Arizona GEAR UP is part of an overall push toward greater success in K-12 and higher education that Gov. Doug Ducey and other state leaders are championing.

This is the fourth GEAR UP grant NAU has been awarded since the university began administering this program in 2000. Ducey again designated NAU as Arizona’s applicant for GEAR UP. Education professor Daniel Kain has been a principal investigator since 2002; College of Education Dean Ramona Mellott is a co-PI on the current grant, which builds on 20 years of experience, as well as research on best practices in college access to leverage an innovative design that makes it possible for more than 15,000 students to benefit annually from program services.

“NAU’s successful track record in leading GEAR UP in Arizona spans nearly two decades and stands as one of the many ways NAU contributes to addressing the critical issues of our state,” said NAU President Rita Cheng. “The success of Arizona GEAR UP, like other NAU initiatives, is in the way we work together to achieve the state’s goals of an educated citizenry, a robust workforce and a thriving economy.”

The program aims to foster partnerships and collaborations between NAU, high-poverty high schools and organizations throughout the state that are committed to enhancing education in Arizona. GEAR UP provides college awareness and readiness to students beginning in seventh grade and continuing through high school and into the first year of college.

Focused on the Five Es of Equity—engage, empower, excel, elevate and enrich—this phase of the project includes three broad efforts:

  • Expanding GEAR UP to serve all senior students in 41 Title I high schools with a graduation rate below the state average. These schools, known as GEAR UP Achieve60 schools, serve almost 11,600 seniors each year.
  • Selecting three to five high schools and the middle schools that feed those schools and working with students (on average, 4,100 students in grades 7-12 each year) to increase academic performance, high school graduation rates and collegiate preparation and success.
  • Statewide, reaching additional middle and high school students through large-scale dissemination and use of published students’ guides.

The program also leverages resources to support the state’s education priorities and broaden the capacity for partnerships and collaborations that further serve to strengthen Arizona’s education system. These partnerships make possible a variety of local and state initiatives that benefit current and future students in Arizona. NAU will continue to partner with a host of organizations statewide to provide services and programs to help meet the GEAR UP goals.

Under NAU’s first two grants, GEAR UP students graduated from high school and entered college at much higher rates than Arizona’s average. From 2006 to 2012, 83 percent of seniors at GEAR UP schools graduated from high school and 72 percent went to college, compared to the statewide average of 73 percent and 51 percent, respectively. From 2012 to 2019, 88 percent of GEAR UP students graduated, compared to 83 percent at comparison schools, while 58 percent completed their FAFSA, compared to 47 percent at comparison schools.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to enhance education in our state,” Mellott said. “NAU has demonstrated again its deep commitment to the young people and teachers in Arizona.”

GEAR UP is a highly competitive national grant program of the U.S. Department of Education designed to help provide greater opportunities for low-income students to get into and succeed in higher education. The goals of Arizona GEAR UP are graduation rates that meet or exceed the state average and increase the percentage of graduates who enroll and persist in postsecondary education to the target levels outlined in Achieve60AZ.

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Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
(928) 523-8737 |

NAU Communications