Early Intervention and College Awareness Program

The GEAR UP chapter focuses heavily on the Early Intervention and College Awareness Program. This program provides a guarantee of financial aid to low-income students who have obtained a secondary diploma or its equivalent. The program was also designed to aid students in elementary and high school to be aware of the benefits of higher education, and to reach the educational level necessary to attend an institute of higher education. Institutions eligible for grant money include states, partnerships between middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities, and community organizations and businesses. The grant also stipulates that at least 50% of the participants must be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, or are at or below 150% of the Federal poverty level. Each entity devises its own plan, submits the plan to the Secretary of Education, and evaluates the plan on a biennial basis. The submitted plan must describe the activities to be implemented and provide the necessary assurances that the grant money will be matched by the entity; Other existing programs will not be undermined by the new plan or any of the conclusive evaluation results. Eligible entities must implement the plan so it impacts students for the first time no later than their seventh grade year, therefore many programs are initiated in middle schools and extended to the associated high school.

Entities receiving grant money are given a fair amount of autonomy. Each plan is devised and implemented independent of other entities. However, each plan must include comprehensive mentoring, counseling, outreach, and supportive services, including financial aid counseling, providing information and activities regarding college admissions, achievement tests, and application procedures, and improving parental involvement. Funds can support identification of at-risk children, after school and summer tutoring, assistance in obtaining summer jobs, academic counseling, volunteer and parent involvement, providing former or current scholarship recipients as mentor or peer counselors, skills assessment, providing access to rigorous core courses that reflect challenging academic standards, personal counseling, family counseling and home visits, staff development, programs for students of limited English proficiency, and summer programs for remedial, developmental or supportive purposes.

For students who successfully complete the middle school and high school programs, there are scholarships available. In order to be eligible for this students must be less than 22 years of age and have participated in the early intervention component of the program. Not more than 10% of the students from a secondary school can be eligible, in a process requiring application and dependent in part on class rank. These students must attend in-state higher education institutes, unless the college or university provides for portability of funding. If so, students are required to complete a prescribed set of courses and maintain satisfactory progress. The scholarships provided must be no less than 75% of the average cost of attendance for an in-state student in a four-year program at a public institution, and no less than the maximum Federal Pell Grant for that fiscal year. However, the total award to any one student cannot exceed that student's cost of attending the school.

The program also allows a small percentage, only 0.75% to be used in assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of an entity's plan. When the program was passed in 1998, $200 million was appropriated for the following fiscal year, and for five years after. Since the passing of the bill, this program has been met with general approval. It was particularly successful in Connecticut. However, because each entity designs and implements unique plans, the results of the GEAR UP program have been varied.