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Perspective | myFutureNC blog series: Appalachian GEAR UP partnership advances postsecondary attainment goal

The goal: 2 million North Carolinians aged 25 to 44 will receive a high-quality postsecondary credential or degree by 2030. This is an ambitious goal and one that Dale Jenkins, Co-Chair of the myFutureNC Board says will take a “burning passion” to make work. Appalachian GEAR UP couldn’t agree more and it is with this same motivation that a new program is being released, the GEAR UP Guarantee, which will guarantee admission to qualifying GEAR UP students at Appalachian State University.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a federal college access grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Since being awarded the grant in 2014, Appalachian State University has been partnering with 11 school districts across western North Carolina to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP serves cohorts of students starting in sixth grade with engagement continuing through high school and into the first year of college. 

In February 2019, Carolina Demography at UNC Chapel Hill published a report about the state’s leaky educational pipeline, providing a clearer picture of where North Carolina students are falling out of the education pipeline before achieving postsecondary credentials. Appalachian GEAR UP, in partnership with Carolina Demography, is now applying this research to better understand the needs specific to the western NC region.

The result? Appalachian GEAR UP students are outperforming their North Carolina peers in all three End-of-Grade tests (Math, Reading, Science) administered to eighth graders measured by the percentage of students who score a 4 or 5. Yet, there is a 3-percentage-point gap in postsecondary intentions and an 8-percentage-point gap among students who enroll in postsecondary immediately but do not graduate within six years. It is these gaps, and others like them, that GEAR UP is working to address through a network of K-12, UNC System, and NC Community College partners who are providing services to increase college-going mindsets and college-going culture in western North Carolina.

How do we do that? It starts with an understanding that all school districts and all students have different needs. Local school districts customize a GEAR UP service model designed to meet students where they are. To support GEAR UP school districts, Appalachian State University partners with other organizations to offer additional services.

  • Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship: exposing teachers and students to entrepreneurial mindsets and design thinking to promote the rich talent and creativity in local communities.
  • UNC Asheville: supporting local school districts through exposure to a liberal arts campus and building awareness of the college application process.
  • Young Eisner Scholars(YES): engages and inspires the curiosity of promising, first generation, under resourced students and provides individualized support to overcome barriers in the college application process.
  • Wilkes Community College: supporting local school districts through campus visits, summer programs, and 1-on-1 student support.
  • Isothermal Community College: offering exposure to local community college opportunities as early as middle school.
  • North Carolina Public School Forum: leadership development programs focusing on engagement in NC education policy.
  • The Princeton Review: providing 24/7 access to live and personalized 1-on-1 academic support through the platform.
  • Student Success Agency: connecting students to a near-peer college mentor through a digital platform and empowering students in their postsecondary pursuits.
  • MasteryPrep: ACT and Math 1 preparation through a series of teacher and student academic supportive services.
  • Texas Instruments: access to high quality technology for all students and teachers to improve teaching and learning.
  • College Advising Corps: with anticipated support from the NC General Assembly, Appalachian State University is thrilled to launch a new program which places near-peer advisers in high schools to provide individualized support for students in achieving their postsecondary goals.

Serving approximately 15,000 students in 11 counties across western North Carolina, Appalachian GEAR UP is tracking seven out of the ten myFutureNC Education Continuum Indicators over a 7-year project. Further review of high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment results are expected in winter 2020 as Appalachian GEAR UP’s oldest students entered their senior year this fall.

View the full infographic to learn more about Appalachian GEAR UP’s College and Career Readiness Profile.

Editor’s note: This perspective was originally published by the Hunt Institute. It has been published with the author’s permission.

Corinne Smith

Corinne Smith is senior associate director with GEAR UP.