Arizona GEAR UP amplifies reach to high school seniors amid COVID-19

GEAR UP services graphic

When the COVID-19 pandemic upended its outreach plans, Arizona GEAR UP mailed Senior Launch Guides to more than 6,000 Arizona graduating high school seniors.

Arizona GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), a project of Northern Arizona University, produced the guide, an innovative tool that informs students of the steps needed to pursue postsecondary options, for use with students during the school day. When the pandemic led to statewide school closures, the organization, with support from Helios Education Foundation, mailed them instead, providing seniors one more resource to plan their futures.

“It is crucial for Arizona’s graduating high school seniors to have every possible resource at their disposal at the moment,” said NAU President Rita Hartung Cheng. “As we prepare to receive students on our campuses once again, and continue to provide online programs, it is important for students to be well-informed about their academic options and how to apply for admission and financial aid, including scholarships. We are proud to be a leader of Arizona GEAR UP, a project that prioritizes access to higher education, ensuring the academic, professional and economic future of our youth and Arizona’s residents.”

The guide is available for download free of charge in English and Spanish. Highlights include:

  • Action steps and timelines for four-year university, community college, technical school, apprenticeship, workforce and military requirements.
  • Detailed breakdown of the college application process.
  • Comprehensive information to secure financial aid.
  • Application process information for scholarships and jobs.

“The Senior Launch Guide is a powerful tool for our partner schools and students, and we wanted to make it available, especially now, to more students,” said Daniel Kain, an education professor and Arizona GEAR UP co-principal investigator. “COVID-19 upended all our careful plans, but we’re confident this year’s seniors will find the guide invaluable as they launch the process of achieving their future college goals.”

Arizona GEAR UP is a seven-year partnership between the U.S. Department of Education, Northern Arizona University and local, state and national partners. In addition to Helios, partners include the Arizona Business & Education Coalition, Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, Arizona K12Center, Be a Leader Foundation, Center for the Future of Arizona, College Success Arizona, Expect More Arizona, Global Pathways Institute, National Council for Community and Education Partnerships and Student Success Agency.

Arizona GEAR UP aims to foster partnerships and collaborations between NAU, high-poverty high schools and organizations throughout the state committed to enhancing education in Arizona. The grant focuses on the Five Es of Equity—engage, empower, excel, elevate and enrich—and includes three 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.
  • Serving 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.
  • Reaching additional middle and high school students statewide through large-scale dissemination and use of published students’ guides.

This is the fourth GEAR UP grant NAU has been awarded since the university began administering this program in 2000. Gov. Doug Ducey designated NAU as Arizona’s applicant for GEAR UP, and the award includes a dollar-for-dollar match to the $31.7 million in federal funds. Education professor Kain has been a principal investigator since 2002. College of Education Dean Ramona Mellott is a co-principal investigator on the current grant. It builds on 20 years of experience and research on best practices in college access, leveraging an innovative design that makes it possible for more than 15,000 students a year to benefit from program services.


NAU Communications