BOONE, N.C. — More than $29 million in anticipated federal funding, awarded through the U.S. Department of Education, has been allocated to support Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) at Appalachian State University for the next seven academic years (2020–21 to 2026–27). GEAR UP aims to improve the postsecondary enrollment, retention and completion rates of the sixth–12th grade students it serves in Western North Carolina.
Appalachian GEAR UP, which is overseen by App State’s College Access Partnerships, is a federally funded college access program designed to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education immediately after high school.
Of the grant funding, $4,219,200 — awarded to Dr. Jim Beeler, director of College Access Partnerships, and Corinne Smith, director of Appalachian GEAR UP — will support GEAR UP in the 2020–21 academic year. The $29 million-plus in funding is the largest grant awarded to App State since 2004, according to the Office of Research.
‘Creating a college-going culture’
According to Smith, Appalachian GEAR UP will impact more than 14,000 students in 10 Western North Carolina counties during the seven-year grant cycle.
“The grant project will address systemic and sustainable strategies for increased college readiness, with the goal of creating a college-going culture in each GEAR UP partner school,” she said.
The GEAR UP support will reach students in these Western North Carolina counties: Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Burke, Yancey, Madison, Graham, Clay, Swain and Wilkes.
Smith explained that Appalachian GEAR UP, in partnership with other Western North Carolina colleges and universities, will focus on improving students’ access to and performance in a rigorous curriculum that includes Math 1 (one of four high school mathematics courses required for graduation), computer science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses, as well as improving their ACT performance.
GEAR UP will also expose students to entrepreneurship learning opportunities, career exploration, financial literacy and the college application process.
In fall 2019, App State’s GEAR UP team collaborated with the university’s Office of Admissions and the GEAR UP districts that were part of the previous seven-year GEAR UP grant cycle to create the GEAR UP Guarantee, which offers guaranteed admission to App State for seniors at GEAR UP high schools who meet certain criteria.
The university will continue to offer the guaranteed acceptance to GEAR UP graduating classes over the next three years, and the guarantee will remain in place for seniors at GEAR UP school districts covered under the previous grant.
The university’s first group of GEAR UP students — those currently enrolled at App State in fall 2020 who have benefitted from GEAR UP since middle school — will continue to receive GEAR UP services during their time at App State.
North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, along with Sen. and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Sen. Jacky Rosen and Sen. Susan Collins, co-sponsored the GEAR UP for Success Act of 2019. This bipartisan legislation, introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin and John Cornyn, aims to improve the GEAR UP federal grant program by giving grant recipients increased flexibility to cater to local students’ needs, reducing administrative burdens for grant recipients and ensuring a fairer and more competitive application process, according to a 2019 news release from Tillis’ office.
Tillis said, “Our investment in education is important now more than ever as students have had to adapt to remote learning due to COVID-19. GEAR UP has a proven track record of success for low-income and underrepresented students in North Carolina, and this grant will provide funding to Appalachian State University to ensure that every student, no matter their background, has everything they need to prepare for education beyond high school. I applaud the administration and Secretary DeVos for their continued investment in the future of North Carolina students.”
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About College Access Partnerships
Appalachian State University’s College Access Partnerships supports students from the Appalachian region of North Carolina in finding their own distinct path to postsecondary education. This is accomplished by supporting the work of teachers, counselors and educators, along with providing direct services to students. College Access Partnerships offers the Upward Bound and GEAR UP programs, as well as additional resources for students, families and educators. Learn more at https://gocollege.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.