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Why Gear Up is Important for America's Youth

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Why Gear Up is Important for America's Youth

September 12, 2000

GEAR UP is Creating College Opportunities for At-Risk Youth.

  • Enacted in 1998, GEAR UP funds partnerships of high-poverty middle schools, colleges and universities, community organizations, and business to work with entire grade levels of students. The partnerships provide tutoring, mentoring, information on college preparation and financial aid, an emphasis on core academic preparation and, in some cases, scholarships.
  • GEAR UP works with students starting in 7th grade or earlier through high school graduation because research shows that students taking challenging courses (including algebra) in middle school are much more likely to succeed in high school and go on to college.
  • In its first year, GEAR UP served nearly 450,000 students nationwide. Over 1,000 organizations are GEAR UP partners, including colleges and universities, libraries, arts organizations, local chambers of commerce, the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Wal-Mart, Unisys, and the New York Times Education Program. Next academic year, GEAR UP will serve 700,000 students and President Clinton has requested $325 million in FY 2001 to serve 1.3 million children.

The College Opportunity Gap Is Real.

  • Only 47 percent of low-income high school graduates immediately enroll in college or trade school, compared to 82 percent of high-income students. (National Center for Education Statistics, Condition of Education 1999)
  • Only 18 percent of African-Americans and 19 percent of Hispanic high school graduates in their late twenties have earned a bachelor's degree, compared to 35 percent of whites. (NCES, Condition of Education 1999)
  • The opportunity gap persists regardless of academic preparation: 22 percent of college-qualified high school graduates with low family incomes don't pursue post-secondary education, compared to only 4 percent of high-income graduates. (NCES, Access to Postsecondary Education for 1992 High School Graduates.)

GEAR UP's Approach Is Unique among Federal Programs. GEAR UP complements existing federal programs by:

  • Starting earlier. GEAR UP partnerships start no later than 7th grade because research shows that students who take challenging course work in middle school, including algebra, are far more likely to succeed in high school and college.
  • Staying with children through high school graduation. GEAR UP provides long-term mentoring over a period of six or more years, helping children stay on track, and often providing scholarships when they reach college.
  • Transforming schools. GEAR UP partnerships work with entire grades of students to transform their schools. Services include mentoring, tutoring, strengthening curriculum, teacher professional development, summer and after-school academic and enrichment programs, and college visits.
  • Supporting college scholarships. Some GEAR UP partnerships provide college scholarships, which research shows to be particularly important in preventing drop-outs among low-income students.
  • Leveraging local resources. GEAR UP encourages colleges and other community organizations to partner with low-income middle schools and leverages non-federal resources with a one-for-one match requirement.
  • Bolstering state efforts. GEAR UP also supports state early college preparation and scholarship efforts.

GEAR UP is Modeled on Proven Programs. Evaluation research on existing programs demonstrates the value of and the need for the GEAR UP approach.

  • I Have a Dream ("IHAD") provides entire grades of low-income students with intensive mentoring, academic support, and a promise of public and private aid for college tuition. Roughly 75 percent of Chicago IHAD students in the class of 1996 graduated from high school, as did only 37 percent of students in the control group.
  • Project GRAD is a college-school-community partnership to improve inner-city education. Students receive curricular, counseling, and scholarship opportunities to bring college within reach. Project GRAD has produced dramatic results on a large scale. The percentage of middle school students passing the Texas statewide math test has tripled from 21 percent in 1995 to 63 percent in 1998. The number of students graduating from one Project GRAD high school increased by 64 percent between 1988 and 1998, while the overall district number declined by 7 percent, and five times more students are going to college.

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