Initiative trying to encourage college enrollment

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Area seventh-graders will be shadowed by Clovis Community College employees until they graduate from high school in 2011 as part of an initiative to increase the enrollment of low-income students in higher education.

“Anything we can do for students in junior high school and high school will ultimately benefit all of us,” said CCC Interim President Becky Rowley, an advocate of the national program, called GEAR UP — Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

“With a more highly trained work force,” she said, “we will be more likely to attract different types of businesses and raise the standard of living for everyone.”

Buoyed by more than $1.5 million in federal funding and $1.5 million in local funding, the program is a collaboration between the college and the Clovis school district. Every seventh-grader in the district is now part of a cohort, which will have access to a library of resources designed to improve academic success, including tutoring, intensive summer programs, counseling, and mentoring. In addition, a Clovis Community College program coordinator will be housed on each of Clovis’ three junior high school campuses.

“We are all here to try to be a resource for these students. We want to let them know no matter what their current circumstances may be, college is an option for them,” GEAR UP Director Monica Sanchez said.

“We don’t care where they go to college,” the Clovis Community College employee said, “we just want them to go to college.”

Sanchez said numerous studies indicate that with post-secondary education, quality of life and career options improve tremendously. But parents who have not obtained post-secondary education are sometimes ill equipped to navigate their children through the higher education system, Sanchez said. This program sorts out the process for students and their parents, she said.

Though the program is “brand new” to Gattis Junior High School Principal Craig Terry, he has accepted it with open arms.

“Anytime you have a program that engages students and family, that’s fantastic,” Terry said.

“It would be pie in the sky,” he added, “ to say that every kid is going to college. We know there are some on the vocational track. The goal of this is not necessarily to get everyone to go to college, but rather for academic success,” Terry said.

GEAR UP officially launched in September, Sanchez said, but it will not be fully operational until the start of the next school year.

Funding for the program ends in six years, when the district’s current seventh-graders throw their caps into the air. But program officials said they will likely seek funding for another cohort.