Archived Information

Starting Early to Close the College Opportunity Gap

Expanding college opportunity for all American students and making progress in closing the enrollment gap for minority and disadvantaged youth have been key priorities of the Department of Education under the leadership of President Clinton and Secretary Riley. Low-income and minority students are at high risk of failing to enter college: only 46 percent of low-income high school graduates immediately enroll in postsecondary education, compared to 77 percent of high-income graduates. A critical component of efforts to close this gap is the Department?s commitment to programs, like GEAR UP and TRIO, which help disadvantaged middle and high school students receive the support and preparation they need to get into and succeed in college.

GEAR UP for College

GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) was enacted in 1998 to help close the college opportunity gap for disadvantaged students. GEAR UP funds partnerships between high-poverty middle schools and colleges, community organizations, businesses, and other partners to provide mentoring, tutoring, information on college preparation and financial aid and, in some cases, scholarships, for low income students to make sure they take the challenging courses needed to prepare for college. GEAR UP partnerships work with students starting as early as the 6th grade and continue through high school graduation. GEAR UP?s unique early approach is important because research shows that students who take challenging courses in the middle grades and throughout the high school years are much more likely to succeed in college.

Now in its first year, GEAR UP is serving over 450,000 students nationwide through 164 partnership grants and 21 state grants. Over 1,000 organizations are GEAR UP partners, including colleges and universities, libraries, arts organizations, local chambers of commerce, the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Wal-Mart, Unisys, and the New York Times Education Program. In its second year, GEAR UP will serve over 750,000 students. President Clinton has requested $325 million in FY 2001 to build pathways to college for 1.4 million students.

GEAR UP 21st Century Scholar Certificates: Raising Expectations

Each GEAR UP student receives a 21st Century Scholar Certificate signed by the President and the Secretary of Education. Mandated as part of the GEAR UP legislation, these certificates recognize student progress, encourage students to raise their expectations, and provide parents and students with concrete financial aid information to help them understand that college is within reach and learn how to plan for college. Recognizing the importance of these messages, President Clinton presented the first 21st Century Scholar Certificate in a ceremony held May 19 at Sulzberger Middle School in Philadelphia. Many partnerships are holding special ceremonies to award 21st Century Scholar Certificates, and the Department of Education is working with partnerships to ensure that these ceremonies are memorable and recognize GEAR UP students? accomplishments?and future opportunities.

To learn more about the GEAR UP program, please contact: Rafael Ramirez at (202) 502-7795, or visit our Web site at


Federal TRIO Programs

The Federal TRIO Programs are educational opportunity outreach programs designed to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Students in the TRIO Student Support Services programs are more than twice as likely to remain in college as students from similar backgrounds who did not participate in the programs.

Begun in 1965 with Upward Bound, a component of the War on Poverty, TRIO programs have been expanded and improved to provide a wider range of services to more students. TRIO now includes six outreach and support programs targeted to help low-income, first-generation college, and disabled students enter and complete postsecondary programs. TRIO currently provides outreach and support services to approximately 724,300 students through the Student Support Services Program, Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math/Science, Talent Search, Educational Opportunity Centers, and other programs.

The President has requested an additional $80 million to allow an additional 36,700 disadvantaged students to receive TRIO services in FY 2001. The President?s FY 2001 funding request of $725 million would help a total of 761,000 disadvantaged students prepare for and succeed in postsecondary education. Funds would be used to: provide academic and career counseling, admissions and financial aid information, and tutoring services to 385,000 middle and high school students; encourage 218,000 disadvantaged postsecondary students to complete college and pursue graduate studies; and encourage over 158,000 adults to go back to school and pursue postsecondary education. The FY 2001 request also includes $35 million for a new College Completion Challenge Grants initiative to provide scholarship assistance and intensive summer programs for students in their first year of college.

To learn more about TRIO programs, please contact: Dr. Bob Belle at (202) 502-7600, or visit our Web site at



Think College Early is the U.S. Department of Education?s public information campaign that provides information and resources to help students, parents, educators, and community leaders prepare youth for college early. The campaign has developed student-focused messages that deal with setting high expectations and high standards; working hard and getting the best grades one can; finding and connecting with mentors who will support positive goals; planning to take the right courses?like algebra and geometry beginning in the eighth or ninth grades?to keep educational options open; and learning about financial aid and scholarships to pay for college.

For publications and other resources for middle grades students, parents, and teachers and counselors, please contact: Diana Phillips at (202)205-3687 or visit the Think College Early Web site at


COOL: College Opportunities On-Line

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) was authorized by Congress in 1998 to help college students, future students, and their parents understand the differences among colleges and how much it costs to attend college. IPEDS College Opportunities On-Line (COOL) was created by NCES to link students to over 9,000 colleges and universities?including large universities, small liberal arts colleges, community colleges, career or technical colleges and trade schools?in the United States. COOL also provides tools to help students search for colleges based on location, program, or degree offerings either alone or in combination.

To learn more about IPEDS COOL, please visit our Web site at