All the evidence, empirical and anecdotal, arrives at the same conclusion: If students believe at a young age that college and other forms of post-secondary education are accessible to them, they are much more likely to pursue an education past high school. Whether it’s college, trade school, technical school or some other approach, post-secondary education makes these students much more employable — and helps our country compete in a global marketplace.
Too many low-income students in Central Washington grow up thinking college is for someone else. They may grow up in families in which few members have an education past high school, and any sort of post-secondary education comes at a financial cost.
The GEAR UP program has succeeded in changing that. An acronym for the lengthy title of Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, the U.S. Department of Education effort starts preparing students in high-poverty middle schools and follows them through high schools. GEAR UP money also provides college scholarships to these low-income students.
And soon, the program — and college — will become much more accessible to more students in the Yakima and Kittitas valleys.
Central Washington University has landed an $18 million grant — the university says it is the largest grant of any kind that it has received — from the Education Department for GEAR UP. The seven-year grant will start with sixth- and seventh-graders and follow them through high school; the money will cover classroom and after-school tutors, college visits and college prep material.
The grant is aimed especially at linking smaller, more isolated communities and their students to colleges; the money stands to benefit more than 3,000 students in Central Washington, including those in the Easton and Highland school districts. CWU’s money comprises a huge chunk of new awards by the Education Department; the nationwide total was about $82 million through 41 grants.
In our changing workplace, a high school education is only the start of gaining the skills necessary to succeed on the job; some sort of postsecondary education is needed to increase the chances of landing employment and advancing to better jobs with a given employer. This program helps smooth the way to that goal, both in establishing a student mindset and offering the financial means for education after high school. It also buttresses CWU’s influence in its home territory in Central Washington.
Of course, the effectiveness of the program depends on accountability, transparency and follow-through by those administering the program. That said, it will likely prove worthwhile to check back in a half-dozen years and see where these students are headed.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.
Source: Yakima Herald-Republic