Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Wednesday Virginia is receiving $22 million in federal funds through the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. The government will allocate the funds over the next seven years to 16 school districts in Virginia, according to a press release.
The GEAR UP program will begin this year, serving almost 6,000 seventh grade students and following the group of students through high school and into their first year of college. The program is targeted toward low-income students and will raise awareness of college and financial aid options, increase participation in challenging courses and support students through the college admissions process, according to the press release.
The funding will go toward schools with a high population of students on financial aid programs like free and reduced lunch, McAuliffe Press Secretary Brian Coy said. Though the list of schools has yet to be finalized, Buford Middle School in Charlottesville will be among the recipients.
“Dollars would be well-spent helping to encourage kids to take advantage of vocational options [and] out of poverty and tough situations,” he said.
The program will provide students with services such as tutoring, test preparation, summer bridge programs, college tours and study skills development through partnerships with school districts, colleges, non-profit organizations and businesses.
Coy said the grant aims to make students aware of higher education opportunities. Even though the grant is only for seven years, Coy said he hopes future governors’ administrations will re-apply for the grant and continue the program.
McAuliffe recently announced a $90 million state budget cut for higher education.
“We are actually working with Republican and Democrats to reduce the cut we expected from school from five percent to three and a half percent,” he said. “So this is something they should be able to do without causing a dramatically [increased reduction in] students’ learning experiences.”
He said the rise of tuition is a general trend even without the budget cut, so this budget cut is not in conflict with the Gear Up program.
“That doesn’t mean we should not do our thing at the same time to get more students to go [to college],” Coy said.
Coy said focusing on financial aid and technical skill training are beneficial to encouraging student to pursue higher education.
“Expanding access to postsecondary education in every corner of the commonwealth is key to building a new Virginia economy,” McAuliffe said in the press release. “These grants will help my administration work with schools and communities to prepare more low-income students to get the skills and training they need to succeed in the 21st Century economy.”