The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the Iowa College Student Aid Commission (Iowa College Aid) a $22-million-dollar grant to continue a program that helps low income students finish high school and go on to college.
Iowa College Aid spokesperson, Heather Doe, says the program is called “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs” or GEAR UP, and it has a couple of goals. “To help improve college readiness and to increase attendance and completion rates in particular among students who are first-generation, low-income students,” Does says. “So we are really about what this means for this state and to partner with these 12 different communities.”
Doe says they start working with seventh graders. “The communities that have been identified that we’ll serve throughout the state are: Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Columbus, Davenport Denison, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Ottumwa, Perry, Sioux City and Storm Lake. So, we will be working with middle schools this year in these communities,” Doe says.
She says they will receive $3.2 million in the first year to work with the schools. “They were selected based partially on the percent of their student body being on free and reduced-price lunches. And it will differ by school district on what their needs are,” according to Doe.
Doe says it is important to help the students in these groups to get ready for college. “We know as a state that more and more of our jobs require education beyond high school. It might not necessarily be a four-year degree, but many of our up and coming jobs require some type of additional education or training beyond high school,” according to Doe. “And we know in just a few short years that’s estimated to be about two thirds of all the jobs in the state. Currently only about 36-percent of our population has at least an associate’s degree. So, we know that we kind of need to narrow that gap down.”
Doe says they worked on the gap with a previous “Gear Up” grant and found out there’s still a need. “We have even more schools now in the state who are meeting the requirement — they have more of their students on free and reduced-price lunch — so we have a needier student base. From data we know that there is a gap in college going rates, between middle and high income students and those from lower income backgrounds,” Does says. “And so this is to try and narrow that gap and give everyone an equal chance.”
The grant is spread out over seven years and represents 50 percent of the total project budget. The other 50 percent of program costs will be covered in the form of more than 22 million dollars in non-federal matching dollars from 36 partners across the state. To find out more about the program, go to: www.IowaCollegeAid.gov.