The University of Hawaiʻi was awarded more than $39 million in federal grants to help increase the number of low-income middle and high school students statewide who succeed in college through GEAR UP, the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs from the U.S. Department of Education.
The federal GEAR UP program provides seven-year, matching grants to states and partnerships for services that improve access to and success in higher education at high-poverty middle and high schools statewide. GEAR UP in Hawaiʻi has been serving Hawaiʻi’s low-income youth since 2000, impacting an estimated 30,000-plus students, and the latest round of funding is expected to help nearly 25,000 more students over the next seven years. This is the largest amount of money that the GEAR UP program in Hawaiʻi has received.
“We are absolutely delighted that the federal government recognizes our effectiveness and success over the past 18 years and has committed to continue this significant investment in advancing educational equity in Hawaiʻi,” said UH President David Lassner. “We really appreciate the opportunity to dramatically elevate educational attainment across the state, with a special focus on students who need help the most.”
In addition to the state GEAR UP grant, UH received two partnership GEAR UP grants to work with students in specific communities on Oʻahu, Maui and Hawaiʻi island. The first, for $6.7 million administered through UH Mānoa, is for students at Wahiawā Middle and Leilehua High; Waipahu Intermediate and Waipahu High and Hilo Intermediate and Hilo High. A second grant, $3.5 million administered through UH Maui College, is for students for Kalama Intermediate, King Kekaulike High; Maui Waena Intermediate and Maui High.
“This funding will allow GEAR UP programs to continue across the state, enabling thousands more public school students to benefit from programs that encourage high school completion, provide tuition assistance for dual-credit programs so students can earn college credit while still in high school, inform students about the college application process and how to apply for federal financial assistance, and facilitate the transition between high school and college,” said U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, who has been a great supporter of the program.
Previous GEAR UP grants
The first GEAR UP Hawaiʻi state grant (2000–2005) recruited about 6,000 8th grade students from low-income public middle schools to become GEAR UP Scholars. It established college preparation clubs, provided information about higher education and awarded college scholarships to qualified participants.
The second and third state grants (2005–2011, 2011—2018) expanded GEAR UP Scholars statewide to become Step Up Scholars, which included more than 13,000, mostly low-income students and encouraged participants to take rigorous high school classes, apply for college and financial aid and develop college and career transition skills.
In addition, the third state grant, in a partnership with Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, piloted the successful Early College program, bringing college courses to thousands of high school students statewide.
“We are seeing a culture shift with more students motivated and supported to go to college as barriers to post secondary education are no longer an issue thanks to programs supported through GEAR UP,” said Hawaiʻi State Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. “For our communities to thrive, we will need more of our graduates succeeding in college—by 2020, 70 percent of jobs in Hawaiʻi will require it.”
Hawaiʻi P–20 leads
Hawaiʻi P–20 Partnerships for Education serves as the lead for the GEAR UP Hawaiʻi state grant, which was awarded $28.8 million over seven years.
“GEAR UP funds have provided resources for successful programs such as Early College and other academic readiness initiatives,” said Stephen Schatz, Hawaiʻi P–20 executive director. “This is a team effort between the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education, the University of Hawaiʻi, and many community and business partners. We are all working together to ensure that students everywhere in this state have access to higher education.”
The new state grant will expand on the work that is already underway. “Our vision is to continue to support middle and high schools with programs that enable students to complete high school, navigate the college application and financing process, enroll in college without the need for remediation and be prepared for living-wage careers,” said Angela Jackson, GEAR UP Hawaiʻi Project Director of Hawaiʻi P–20. “It will also focus on creating stronger career pathway alignment, developing a counseling model for middle school through college and improving financial literacy programs to support low-income students to prepare for and succeed in college.”