Students across Mississippi will benefit from almost $28 million in funding to support college access and success thanks to the Gaining Early Awareness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant. GEAR UP is funded through the US Department of Education and aims to increase the number of low-income students who are getting to and through college.
The seven-year grant was awarded to Mississippi State University and will be supported in partnership with the Get2College program of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF). Other grant partners include the Mississippi Department of Education, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, and ACT.
“The GEAR UP grant will bring one of the largest and most effective federal programs focused on improving college and career readiness of low-income students to Mississippi,” said Brandi Lyndall, director of GEAR UP MS for Get2College. “Through community-based strategies and statewide approaches, we will increase the number of low-income students who are prepared for college and will be successful there.”
GEAR UP will provide targeted college access services and other benefits to students in the Greenville, McComb, and Meridian public school districts, beginning in middle school with the goals of increasing: readiness for college; high school graduation rates; access to information on postsecondary schools, career options, and financial aid; and college enrollment.
“According to Georgetown University, it is estimated that by 2020, 65% of all jobs will require some kind of postsecondary education. Currently, Mississippi sits at 40.9%,” said WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale. “In recent years, Mississippi has made progress in increasing the educational attainment rate of our citizens, and I am confident that this grant will allow us to continue to build on that momentum.”
In addition to targeted work in partner school districts, GEAR UP will provide additional support to students and educators throughout Mississippi. WHEF’s Get2College program will provide statewide ACT prep for teachers, financial aid application support for students and families, and professional development for school counselors. Each year, Get2College provides FAFSA completion support and other direct college-planning services to students and families, and professional development to high school counselors and school leaders, explained Get2College Program Director Ann Hendrick.
“Everything we do is research-based and known to increase the college-going rate of the students we serve, including FAFSA completion, which is a strong predictor of a student’s likelihood to enroll in college,” Hendrick said. “Get2College supports FAFSA completion directly and through partnerships throughout the state and currently ranks third in the nation for highest percentage of FAFSA completion by high school seniors. We are excited to continue our work and to reach even more Mississippians as a part of GEAR UP Mississippi.”
Project partners will also develop a virtual reality app, allowing students to explore each of Mississippi’s public universities and eight key industries. Additionally, students will be given 24/7 access to an online chat feature that will provide answers to common state and federal financial aid questions.