Economic Spotlight :
GEAR UP Alabama! What if you got a letter in the mail from your child’s school telling you that your 6th grader, assuming they kept up their grades, was GUARANTEED a 2-year college scholarship when they graduated from high school? That very letter was mailed to 9,300 parents of 6th and 7th graders throughout Alabama’s Black Belt last year! The program, called GEAR UP Alabama, headed up by the University of Alabama in Birmingham, is limited and only applies to last year’s 6th and 7th graders (this year’s 7th and 8th graders), and is not open to other classes. GEAR UP Alabama is a seven-year, $49 million project aimed at rural and poverty stricken counties in the State of Alabama to improve high school graduation rates and college attendance. The program is in public schools in Pioneer Electric Cooperative, Inc.’s coverage area in Butler, Dallas, Lowndes and Wilcox Counties.
8 NOVEMBER 2015
GEAR UP is an acronym for “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.” The program is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and to succeed in postsecondary education. Although two and four year college degrees are required more and more for today’s jobs (twothirds of ALL jobs by 2020 based on a Georgetown University study), a recent New York Times article reported that only 66% of today’s high school graduates are going to college. Of those that enroll, only 59% of those complete college and obtain a degree. GEAR UP is working to enhance those numbers for the students in the program by offering additional programs, mentoring and oversight for the participants all the way through their freshman year of college. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL: The program also offers 2-year scholarships for the PARENTS (or guardians) of all of the participants, potentially tripling
the number of folks affected by the program. This program will offer the opportunity for training or re-training for these select parents to be better able to obtain and retain high-wage, high-demand jobs. For the lucky few that are able to participate in the GEAR UP program, great opportunities are in their future. Hopefully, the work done by the GEAR UP administrators can be assessed and used in the future to help middle school and high school children have a better chance at success in their future pursuits of further education. Unique programs like GEAR UP Alabama will continue to move Alabama forward, help build our economy and make the state better able to attract and retain industry. Cleve Poole
VP Economic Development and Legal Aﬀairs