$7 million grant will help ASU, partners offer college prep to students and families

Students and families at ASU's Future Sun Devil Family Day

Students in sixth through 10th grades and their families receive college prep resources and information at Future Sun Devil Family Day at ASU's Tempe campus. Photo by Bryan Pietsch


Thanks to a $7 million grant recently awarded to Arizona State University, students and their families will have greater access to a college education and a foundation for a bright future.

ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus is one of 55 educational institutions to receive a U.S. Department of Education State and Partnership GEAR UP award from the 2018 GEAR UP competition. The award is a seven-year grant, providing $1 million of funding beginning in 2018.

GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is a federally funded grant program that helps local partners — K–12 schools, higher education institutions, state agencies and community organizations — increase college readiness and enrollment, increase graduation rates and educate students and families about postsecondary options, preparation and financing.

“ASU is committed to fostering a college-going culture and supporting Arizona students, families and schools within the communities we serve,” said Sharon Smith, dean of students at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus and a Co-PI with the ASU GEAR Up initiative. ASU’s participation in GEAR Up aligns with the university’s many efforts and long-term commitment to providing early access, college-focused resources and pathways to an excellent college education,” Smith added.   

According to Sylvia Symonds, associate vice president of Educational Outreach and Student Services and principal investigator of the new GEAR UP grant, the $7 million GEAR UP grant will provide valuable resources to help a large cohort of students prepare for college earlier in their education.

ASU’s aim with this award is to enroll 1,250 students per year, beginning in the seventh grade, from partner districts and target schools and offer intensive academic support to assist the students in successfully completing their college degree. Students will continue to participate in the program through the successful completion of their first year of postsecondary.

“Students will have dedicated support to ensure they are pursuing rigorous academic coursework that is aligned with their college-going pathway, including English, math and science,” Symonds said. “GEAR UP will provide tutoring and mentoring, as well as college visits, summer experiences and family engagement.”

Symonds said that the participating schools are already committed to preparing their students and families for higher education, but the GEAR UP funding will provide much needed support to help accelerate this goal. 

ASU’s GEAR UP award is a partnership grant, which will take a community collaboration approach to expand programs and services for students. Districts participating in the GEAR UP grant include Tempe Elementary, Tempe Union, Mesa Public Schools, Pendergast Elementary, Tolleson Elementary, Tolleson Union, Glendale Elementary, Washington Elementary and Glendale Union.  Community partners include the Be A Leader Foundation, APS, Glendale Community College, the Arizona College Access Network, MidFirst Bank, Mesa Counts on College, Tempe College Connect and many others who are committed to improving postsecondary outcomes for Arizona students and families. Symonds notes that many of these partners are also part of the broader Achieve60 movement in Arizona.

Gisselle Herrera, executive director of curriculum and instruction for GEAR UP partner Tolleson Elementary School District, said they feel fortunate to have this opportunity for their students. 

“We believe that it is never too early to prepare for college. Our students have hopes and dreams for their future and we know that another layer of support designed to increase college attendance will be instrumental in a successful completion of K-12 and postsecondary education,” Herrera said.

“It will take all of us, K-12, higher education, nonprofits and the business community leveraging our collective knowledge, resources and vision in order to help our students achieve the postsecondary outcomes needed to move our state forward,” Symonds said.

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