Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, D-W.Va., has designated this week as "GEAR UP for College Week" to recognize the impact and achievements of Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). It's a national grant program through the United States Department of Education that launched in West Virginia in 2008. Its mission is to help students pursue and achieve education and training beyond high school.
Since 2008, nearly 13,000 students in ten counties - Boone, Clay, Lincoln, McDowell, Mingo, Roane, Summers, Webster, Wirt, and Wyoming - have received college counseling and academic support through GEAR UP.
Students who are now seniors first began participating when they were in seventh grade. "West Virginia has seen tremendous success through the GEAR UP program," Tomblin said in a news release from the Higher Education Policy Commission. "By engaging students at a young age and building family and community support around them, the program makes going to college more than just an ambition for our young people. As we continue helping West Virginians prepare for the 21st century workforce, we will certainly look to the GEAR UP program as a standard for increasing college access and improving college readiness."
Surveys indicate that GEAR UP students are far better informed than other students when it comes to financial aid and college costs. And while most of these schools lagged behind the state average in college-going rates at the program's start, that gap is beginning to close.