The Iowa College Aid Commission was awarded a seven-year statewide Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEARUP) grant bythe U.S.Department of Education totaling $22 million. Iowa was one of 10 states awarded a grant, and in turn, the Iowa College Aid Commission has now partnered with 12 school districts statewide to improve college readiness and increase college attendance and completion rates, especially among low-income and first-generation students.

This seven year project will support about 6,300 students beginning in the 7th grade and will follow them as they progress through school. The program is a long-term partnership between the Iowa College Aid Commission, 12 partner school districts and nearly 40 partnering institutions of higher education and community-based organizations. School districts included in the program include, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Columbus, Davenport, Denison, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Ottumwa, Perry, Sioux City, and Storm Lake.

In order to participate, the communities had to have 50% or more of their school population on free or reduced priced lunch to be considered.  In addition, the school administration needed to demonstrate a willingness to be actively involved in the new implementation planning.

The students and their parents will receive a variety of services aimed at preparing them academically, financially and inspirationally to enroll and succeed in college. Upon enrollment in a college, GEAR UP Iowa students will receive a modest scholarship for up to four years. Gear Up will assist seventh-graders and support college visits, tutoring, job shadows and ACT prep.

Closing the Achievement Gap

According to the US Census Bureau, by the end of the decade over two-thirds of all jobs in Iowa are projected to require education or training beyond high school.Yet, less than 40%of Iowa’s nearly 1.6 million working-age adults have at least an associate’s degree. At-risk students, including minorities, have had a lower student achievement than their counterparts, creating a gap in performance, and less at-risk and minorities attend college.

GEAR UP Iowa is charged with significantly increasing the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post secondary education. It will help expand successful methods to reach more first generation and at-risk students and is aimed at addressing Iowa’s achievement gap.