Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a competitive grant program of the U.S. Department of Education that increases the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education by providing States and local community-education partnerships six-to-seven year grants to offer support services to high-poverty, middle and high schools.
The program serves at least one grade level of students, beginning no later than the 7th grade, following them through high school graduation and their first year in college. GEAR UP provides critical early college awareness and support activities like tutoring, mentoring, academic preparation, financial education and college scholarships to improve access to higher education for low income, minority and disadvantaged first-generation students and their families. GEAR UP funds are also used to provide college scholarships to low-income students.
The program mandates cooperation among K-12 schools, institutions of higher education, local and state education entities, businesses and community-based organizations. These dynamic partnerships are required to leverage local resources to match the federal investment dollar for dollar, creating a common agenda that more effectively facilitates the educational aspirations and attainment of students from low-income communities.
The GEAR UP initiative was authorized by Title IV of the 1998 Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) and was signed into public law (P.L.105-244) on September 29, 1998 by President Clinton. In signing the law, the President remarked that:
In today’s global economy, what you earn depends on what you learn. This bill will make it easier for millions of Americans to get the higher education they need to succeed in the global economy…It responds to the challenge I issued in the State of the Union to create a ‘High Hopes’ initiative, where colleges reach down to middle school students in high-poverty areas to give them the support they need to be ready for higher education.
Modeled on successful college access work (such as I HAVE A DREAM, Project GRAD, and several institutional and state system initiatives), GEAR UP was created to provide communities with a comprehensive, holistic and research-driven initiative to prepare low-income and minority students for higher education.
The legislation described the purpose of the GEAR UP project as encouraging education partnerships to:
To ensure that GEAR UP merits continued federal financial support, the Secretary of Education provides Congress with performance data (as mandated by the Government Performance Results Act of 1993, (GPRA). These indicators are important to GEAR UP professionals as they define the reporting and evaluation mandates of the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE).