This week is National GEAR UP Week, an event highlighting the positive impact that GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), has had on students, families, schools, and communities since Congress authorized the program thirteen years ago. GEAR UP provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.
In Chicago, the Freshman Connection program is a great example of a successful GEAR UP partnership grant program in action. The program, sponsored by Northeastern Illinois University and Chicago Public Schools, is free and held during the summer at high schools across the city for rising ninth grade students to prepare them for the rigors of a high school education. In the span of a month, students make new friends, take field trips, meet teachers and counselors, learn graduation requirements, get ready for classes, and explore college and careers.
Ninety percent of the Class of 2011, the first graduates of Freshman Connection, will have completed their federal student aid forms, which is a crucial step in informing families that college tuition is within reach. The federal government’s GEAR UP grant is key to Freshman Connection’s success in helping students and families through mentoring, and parent involvement. State grant programs across the country have implemented similar college access initiatives that target dual enrollment and the use of CLEP testing to earn college credit.
To prepare students for success in the 21st Century economy, higher education must be within the reach of every American. Programs such as Freshman Connection are essential to help meet President Obama’s goal of leading the world in college completion by 2020. Watch Secretary Duncan speak about the importance of higher education and National GEAR UP Week for a celebration event in Philadelphia, Pa.:
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David Gellman, a student at Georgetown University, is an intern in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs.