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Press Release


CHAPEL HILL, NC  – The University of North Carolina System Office has been awarded a new seven-year $25.7 million Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

GEAR UP is a college access initiative designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. By 2026, GEAR UP North Carolina will provide academic preparation and college exploration services to nearly 35,000 students and their families. This is the fourth statewide GEAR UP grant that the UNC System has secured since 2000. 

The UNC System’s Division of Strategy and Policy will partner with the College Foundation of North Carolina, the NC Community College System (NCCCS), NC State Education Assistance Authority, College Foundation, Inc., and select local education agencies to help meet the goals of the grant. Based on initial criteria set out by the terms of the grant award, 26 education agencies, including 88 middle schools and 67 high schools, will be eligible to participate.

“The UNC System looks forward to working with our partners, helping to create greater access, preparation and awareness of college options for students,” said Dr. Bill Roper, interim president of the UNC System. “We are grateful to the U.S. Department of Education for this grant, and we are confident that these funds will change lives by creating greater access to higher education for many North Carolinians.”

The goals of the grant include:

  •  Increasing academic performance and preparation for postsecondary education
  •  Increasing the rate of high school graduation and participation in postsecondary education
  •  Increasing students’ and families’ knowledge of postsecondary options, preparation requirements, and financing

“This grant combines innovative thinking, rigorous evaluation, and the support of key partners to increase academic achievement across North Carolina,” said Dr. Shun Robertson, senior associate vice president for P20 Policy and Programs for the UNC System. “Postsecondary support is essential to ensure that students, particularly first-generation students, complete the enrollment process, persist in college, and eventually earn a postsecondary credential.”

GEAR UP will use a two-part strategy to serve students in fifteen high schools across multiple school districts. Beginning in 2020, services will be provided to 6th and 7th grade students and their families in five middle schools (one per district). Their respective feeder high school will also receive GEAR UP priority services. These services include customized instruction to improve math and science preparation, afterschool and summer academic enrichment, and access to STEM and computer science apprenticeship opportunities. These students and their families will continue to receive services as they complete high school and their first year of postsecondary education.

In addition to targeting the five feeder high schools, priority services will also be provided in ten additional high schools across multiple school districts. Special consideration will be given to high schools with low rates of college enrollment. Through a collaboration with the College Advising Corps, 12th graders and their families will receive just-in-time support, such as financial aid counseling, college advising, and college match and fit counseling. GEAR UP priority students will also receive student coaching during their first year of postsecondary education.

In addition, GEAR UP NC will expand the GEAR UP VR app, an information portal that directs users to institution-specific links and features 360 virtual reality videos tailored to a first-generation college student audience. GEAR UP NC will partner with NCCCS to include all 58 NC community colleges, making GEAR UP VR a multi-system tool for exploring the wide variety of college options available to North Carolinians.


GEAR UP is a national college access initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Education, aimed at increasing the number of low income students enrolled at and succeeding in postsecondary education. As a state grantee, GEAR UP NC disseminates information about college access across North Carolina. At designated target school districts, located in financially-disadvantaged areas, GEAR UP reaches students to get them motivated and on track to pursue post-secondary education. Its work with 12th graders aims at helping them transition from high school to postsecondary education.