GEAR UP success expands with $30 million grant to NAU

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Northern Arizona University has been awarded a seven-year, $30 million grant to expand the Arizona GEAR UP program to include new schools and serve more students statewide.

GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is a national program intended to help low-income students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college. The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, will be matched in value by non-federal sources to bring the total cost of the project to $60 million.

The program is based on research that has shown the effectiveness of early, long-term intervention and awareness. NAU will begin working with approximately 4,000 seventh graders in select schools in rural, low-income areas of the state in July and will continue serving these students for seven years, through their freshman year of college.

“The work of GEAR UP is a clear example of the commitment of Northern Arizona University to the success of all of Arizona’s young people,” said Daniel Kain, NAU vice provost for Academic Personnel and principal investigator for the program.

The grant also will make it possible for NAU to continue the EXPLORE middle-grade initiative begun under the leadership of Gov. Jan Brewer through the College and Career Access Grant. Brewer tapped the NAU GEAR UP program to implement an assessment of eighth-graders, the ACT EXPLORE exam, in more than 200 schools with 30,000 participating students. The early intervention EXPLORE initiative aims, by 2018, to substantially increase the number of eighth-graders in the state who begin high school on track academically and with a plan for education beyond high school.

NAU was awarded Arizona’s GEAR UP grants in 2000 and in 2006. Last year, Brewer designated NAU to apply for the grant again, and the latest project features key initiatives of the governor’s Education Reform Plan and the Arizona Board of Regents Vision 2020 Plan.

NAU will build on its success from the last two grants. For the nearly 4,000 students served from 2000 to 2006, the high school graduation rate was 82 percent, compared with a statewide average of 70 percent, and the college enrollment rate was 75 percent, compared with a statewide average of 31 percent. These students were awarded more than $9 million in scholarships from the Arizona Community Foundation.

The graduation and college enrollment rates for the nearly 1,800 students in the 2012 cohort are not yet available, but early indicators suggest similarly positive results.

“By 2018, 61 percent of Arizona’s jobs will require education or training beyond high school,” said Teena Olszewski, director of Arizona GEAR UP at NAU. “The new GEAR UP grant substantially increases the odds for low-income and underrepresented students in our state to prepare for accessing and persisting in the higher education these jobs require.”

Communities that have been served through the NAU GEAR UP grants since 2000 include Coolidge, Flagstaff, Kingman, Miami, Nogales, Globe, Mesa, Phoenix, Pinon, Tucson and Yuma.  Schools and students in Bullhead City, Casa Grande, Cottonwood, Douglas, Holbrook, Humboldt, Mohave Valley, San Luis, Toltec and Winslow will be served through the new grant.

GEAR UP also is working in close partnership with Expect More Arizona to create a culture of postsecondary education in the state. The EMA outreach team will engage, train and provide resources to parents and families to help establish that culture throughout the state.