- What competition do these FAQs apply to?
- What is the GEAR UP program statute and regulations?
- How many years may an applicant implement a GEAR UP project?
- What is the mission of the GEAR UP program?
- Does GEAR UP have standardized objectives?
- What types of GEAR UP projects are allowable?
- What is an eligible entity for the State Grants competition?
- Can State applicants receive Competitive Preference Priority points?
- What is the maximum funding a State applicant can request per year?
- What is the GEAR UP match requirement?
- May a State GEAR UP applicant request a waiver of the GEAR UP match requirement?
- How are applicants required to present Federal and non-Federal expenditures?
- Are applicants required to have an approved indirect cost rate?
- What are the services that may be implemented under the GEAR UP program?
- What are the two implementation models under GEAR UP?
- What is the cohort student model?
- What are some examples of allowable cohort designs?
- Does an applicant implementing a cohort model have to provide evidence that all the target schools have at least 50% students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch?
- How does a project serve a “substantial majority” of GEAR UP students under the cohort model?
- What is the priority student model?
- How are State applicants required to allocate Federal funds?
- Are State GEAR UP projects required to provide scholarships?
- What are the eligibility requirements for students to receive scholarships?
- How is “participated” defined for purposes of eligibility for the scholarship?
- May a GEAR UP State applicant request a waiver of the required scholarship allocation of federal GEAR UP funds?
- What must a State applicant demonstrate and describe in its scholarship waiver request that must be included in the submitted application?
- Can a State identify more than one source for funds to cover the scholarship allocation not covered by federal GEAR UP funds?
- What are some ways to avoid common application mistakes?
1. What competition do these FAQs apply to?
These GEAR UP FAQs only apply to the 2023 State Competition. We have removed FAQs specific to the Partnership competition as there is no Partnership competition this year.TOP
2. What is the GEAR UP program statute and regulations?
The GEAR UP program is authorized under Sections 404A– 404H of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), as amended, (20 U.S.C. §§1070a-21—1070a-28) and the program regulations are located U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 34, Subtitle B, Chapter VI, Part 694. The law can be found here: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/U.S.C.ODE-2021-title20/html/U.S.C.ODE-2021-title20-chap28-subchapIV-partA-subpart2-divsn2.htm and the regulations can be found here: https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-34/subtitle-B/chapter-VI/part-694.TOP
3. How many years may an applicant implement a GEAR UP project?
GEAR UP has two authorized grant performance periods: six years (72 months) or seven years (84 months). An applicant can only implement a 7-year grant if the project is designed to provide services through the students’ first year of attending an institution of higher education (IHE).TOP
4. What is the mission of the GEAR UP program?
The GEAR UP program is a discretionary grant program that supports efforts to increase the number of low-income students that obtain a secondary school diploma and prepare for and succeed in postsecondary education.TOP
5. Does GEAR UP have standardized objectives?
No. GEAR UP does not have standardized objectives. For more information, please consult the “Purpose of Program” section of the GEAR UP NIAs.TOP
6. What types of GEAR UP projects are allowable?
GEAR UP has two types of projects: State and Partnership. State projects generally implement Statewide initiatives, such as professional development, parental involvement, and curriculum enrichment, and they support local efforts to achieve the project objectives. Partnership projects are usually more locally concentrated. These two different types of projects each have their own separate competition and program requirements.
Note: only the GEAR UP States program has an open competition in FY 2023.TOP
7. What is an eligible entity for the State Grants competition?
States. This includes, in addition to the fifty States of the United States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, American Samoa, the United States Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Freely Associated States (see 20 U.S.C. §1003(21)).
The governor or chief executive of a State must designate, in writing, which State agency can apply for and administer the State GEAR UP grant. The letter must be included in the application, on official State letterhead and be signed by the Governor.
Per Congressional direction in the Explanatory Statement to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (P.L. 117-328), States may only administer one active State GEAR UP grant at a time. Therefore, only States without an active State GEAR UP grant, or States that have an active State GEAR UP grant that is scheduled to end prior to October 1, 2023, are eligible to receive a new State GEAR UP award in this competition.
States that have a grant that is scheduled to end prior to October 1, 2023, even if their grant is later extended through a no-cost extension, are eligible to apply.
If a State is an ineligible entity for this competition, its application will be rejected and will not be reviewed or scored by the peer reviewers.TOP
8. Can State applicants receive Competitive Preference Priority points?
Yes. State applicants may earn additional points by responding to competitive preference priority #1 in the State GEAR UP competition. In this priority, an applicant applying for a State project can receive up to 2 points for prior experience. If the applicant was successful in implementing a previous GEAR UP grant prior to August 14, 2008, the applicant can receive 1 point. In addition, if the applicant has prior, demonstrated commitment to early intervention leading to college access through collaboration and replication of successful strategies, the applicant can receive another point.
A State applicant may also earn additional points by responding to Competitive Preference Priority #2, Increasing Postsecondary Education Access, Affordability, Completion and Post-Enrollment Success. Under this priority, the applicant can receive up to 8 additional points by responding to one or more of the following priority areas:
(a) Establishing a system of high-quality data collection and analysis, such as data on persistence, retention, completion, and post-college outcomes, for transparency, accountability, and institutional improvement (up to 4 points); and
(b) Providing secondary school students with access to career exploration and advising opportunities to help students make informed decisions about their postsecondary enrollment decisions and to place them on a career path (up to 4 points).TOP
9. What is the maximum funding a State applicant can request per year?
The maximum funding an applicant can request per year for a State GEAR UP grant is $5 million. No funding will be awarded for increases in years 2 through 6 or 7.TOP
10. What is the GEAR UP match requirement?
Applicants are required to match the Federal contribution dollar-for-dollar. Specifically, the non-Federal contribution must equal at least 50% of the total project costs. For instance, if an applicant requests a total of $3 million in Federal funds, the matching contribution is an additional $3 million. The applicant is the fiscal agent and is responsible for documenting all matching contributions for the entire grant period. Matching may be provided in cash or in-kind and may be accrued over the full duration of the grant award period. Applicants must make substantial progress towards meeting the matching requirement in each year of the grant (see 20 U.S.C. §1070a–23(b)).TOP
11. May a State GEAR UP applicant request a waiver of the GEAR UP match requirement?
No. Only GEAR UP Partnership applicants may request a waiver of the GEAR UP match requirement. State applicants must meet the matching requirement.TOP
12. How are applicants required to present Federal and non-Federal expenditures?
All applicants must fill out the Project Budget Summary Form in the GEAR UP Application Package. Applicants must also provide a detailed budget narrative for the first year of the grant performance period. The narrative must address Federal expenditures and matching contributions.
The Federal section of the Project Budget Summary Form, the total requested amounts in Years 2 through 7 should not exceed the total requested amount in the first year. For example, if an applicant requests $3 million in Year 1, they cannot request more than $3 million in subsequent years. Applicants must keep this in mind if they are planning to implement a feeder pattern cohort because funding will not increase each year an applicant subsequently picks up or adds new grades.TOP
13. Are applicants required to have an approved indirect cost rate?
Yes. State Applicants must have an approved restricted indirect cost rate if indirect costs will be charged to the GEAR UP grant. Under 34 CFR § 694.11, all grant recipients are limited to a maximum restricted indirect cost rate of eight (8) percent of a modified total direct cost or the amount permitted by its negotiated indirect cost rate agreement, whichever is less. Even if an applicant does not have an approved indirect cost rate at the time of application, applicants are allowed to include indirect costs in the proposed budget if they have started the process of acquiring or renewing an indirect cost rate agreement. However, the grantee must submit an indirect cost proposal to its cognizant agency within 90 days after the grant is awarded or it may not continue to charge indirect costs. For more information, see 34 CFR § 75.560.TOP
14. What are the services that may be implemented under the GEAR UP program?
All applicants must address required services in the application. Projects should provide comprehensive mentoring, outreach, and supportive services to support the following required services: a) information regarding financial aid for postsecondary education for participating students; b) encourage student enrollment in rigorous or challenging curricula and coursework, in order to reduce the need for remedial coursework at the postsecondary level; c) improve the number of participating students who obtain a secondary school diploma and complete applications for and enroll in a program of postsecondary education; and d) State projects must provide GEAR UP scholarships (see 20 U.S.C. § 1070a–24(a)).
In addition, applicants have the option of implementing permissible services, such as tutoring, college tours, job shadowing, and cultural enrichment. Permissible services allow the applicant to customize its project design to address specific needs of the target population (see 20 U.S.C. § 1070a–24(b) and (c)).TOP
15. What are the two implementation models under GEAR UP?
GEAR UP has two implementation models: cohort model and priority student model. A State applicant can implement either a cohort model, a priority student model.TOP
16. What is the cohort student model?
The cohort model has two approaches: the whole-grade approach and the public housing approach. The whole-grade approach involves all the students in a particular grade level that attend an eligible school, and the public housing approach involves all students in a particular grade level that reside in a public housing (as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 1437a(b)(1)). Below are the cohort parameters regarding project services and the originating school.
- Projects must provide services to at least one grade level of students (e.g., all 7th graders); In other words, if the project plans to serve 7th graders, it must offer services to every student in the 7th grade;
- Begin services no later than 7th grade. Projects can opt to provide services to students in pre-K through 7th grade in the first year of the project. However, projects cannot provide services to 8th and 9th graders in the first year;
- Ensure services are provided through the 12th grade to students in the participating grade level;
- Ensure services are provided through the student's first year of attendance at an institution of higher education (IHE) (available with a 7-year grant award);
- After the students complete the last grade level at the originating target school, the project must continue to provide services to the school that a substantial majority of cohort students attend; and
- Provide services to students who have received services under a previous GEAR UP grant award but have not yet completed the 12th grade.
- The originating school is the target school where the services begin. It must (1) have a 7th grade class and (2) have at least fifty percent of the students enrolled in the school must be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
17. What are some examples of allowable cohort designs?
The following table describes some examples of allowable cohort designs:
Single Grade Cohort
Serve just one class of 7th graders throughout the grant
Starting with 6th and 7th graders and continuing to serve them throughout the grant
Feeder Pattern Cohort
Starting with a single grade (ex. 7th graders) the first year and then pick up another 7th grade class each year
All GEAR UP projects must provide services through high school graduation or a student’s first-year of attendance at an IHE, if the project has a performance period for 7 years. A project must adhere to this requirement even if services are provided to students that are in grades lower than 7th grade (for example, a project that starts with 5th and 6th graders) in the first year of the project.TOP
18. Does an applicant implementing a cohort model have to provide evidence that all the target schools have at least 50% students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch?
Yes. An applicant must provide documentation in the application that shows at least 50% of the students attending the originating school qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The originating school or schools are the location where the project services begin.
The documentation may be from a State Education Agency or school district’s website, a signed letter from the superintendent of schools or another credible source. Applicants should not simply provide a chart outlining free or reduced-price lunch information.TOP
19. How does a project serve a “substantial majority” of GEAR UP students under the cohort model?
Projects must continue to serve the school with the substantial majority of cohort students when the cohort moves on to a new school from the originating school. The originating school is the target school where the services begin. When students move on to another school, the substantial majority could be as little as twenty percent of the original cohort. In other instances, the substantial majority could be higher depending on the district’s feeder pattern.
An example of a substantial majority pattern for a cohort is if a project has 1,000 students in the originating schools and those students move on to two high schools – one high school enrolled 700 students from the original cohort and the other high school enrolled 300, the GEAR UP project is only required to serve the high school that has 700 of the original students. You are not required to pick up students who were not part of the original cohort after students leave the originating school.TOP
20. What is the priority student model?
Only State GEAR UP projects may implement the priority student model. Applicants have flexibility in selecting disconnected students because the Department does not define or have criteria for disconnected students. Disconnected students may include students who are:
- Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch
- Limited English proficient From groups that are traditionally underrepresented in postsecondary education
- Individuals with disabilities
- Homeless children or youth
- Students in foster care
An applicant should clearly describe which students they will serve under the priority student model.TOP
21. How are State applicants required to allocate Federal funds?
State applicants must allocate no less than 25% and no more than 50% of Federal funds for activities, with the remainder dedicated to providing scholarships to eligible GEAR UP students. An applicant may receive a full or partial waiver of the 50% scholarship allocation requirement. As described in Question 24, in order to apply for a waiver, an applicant must demonstrate with documentation that they have another means or multiple means (i.e. non-Federal funds) of providing scholarships to eligible GEAR UP students that meets the minimum Pell requirements (see 20 U.S.C. § 1070a–25(b).
An example of the aforementioned allocation is if a State applicant requests a six- or seven-year total budget of $8,000 in Federal funds, an applicant can allocate $4,000 for scholarships and $4,000 for activities—a 50/50 split. An applicant may also use the entire $8,000 for activities, if an applicant is granted a waiver of the required scholarship allocation. Lastly, an applicant can allocate $2,000 for activities (25%; the minimum allocation of Federal funds for activities) and $6,000 for scholarships if the applicant does not request a scholarship waiver.TOP
22. Are State GEAR UP projects required to provide scholarships?
Yes. State applicants are required to provide scholarships to eligible GEAR UP students. State applicants are required to use at least 50% of the GEAR UP grant funds to provide scholarships unless granted a waiver.TOP
23. What are the eligibility requirements for students to receive scholarships?
GEAR UP students are eligible to receive scholarships if they:
- have participated in a GEAR UP project;
- are under 22 years of age;
- possess a high school diploma or equivalent; and
- are enrolled or accepted for enrollment at a program of undergraduate instruction an IHE that is located in the State's boundaries, except that, at the grantee's option, a State grantee may offer scholarships to students who attend institutions of higher education outside the State.
See 20 U.S.C. § 1070a-25(g)(3); 34 CFR § 694.14.
Applicants cannot add other eligibility criteria or requirements for eligible GEAR UP students to receive GEAR UP scholarships.
A student may also receive a scholarship if the student transfers from the originating school and graduates from a high school that does not serve a “substantial majority” of GEAR UP students. In addition, projects have the option of providing scholarships to students that attend IHEs that are outside of their State.
The minimum amount a project must award to a student is the minimum Pell grant amount for the year the student will be utilizing the GEAR UP scholarship.
Scholarship funds must be held in reserve with at least an amount equal to the minimum scholarship amount multiplied by the estimated number of eligible students. Staff at the Department of Education will provide technical assistance on the types of data States can utilize as they develop their budgets. However, State projects using a priority model may award scholarships directly rather than holding funds in reserve, as applicable.TOP
24. How is “participated” defined for purposes of eligibility for the scholarship?
A. GEAR UP students who meet the eligibility requirements in Section 404E(g), including the requirement to “have participated in a GEAR Up project,” must receive a scholarship. To “have participated in a GEAR UP project,” the student must follow the statutory requirement that they participate in required activities which include “comprehensive mentoring, outreach, and supportive services.” The statute provides examples of those activities such as (1) providing information regarding financial aid for postsecondary education; (2) encouraging student enrollment in rigorous and challenging curricula and coursework, in order to reduce the need for remedial coursework at the postsecondary level; and (3) improving the number of participating students who obtain a secondary school diploma and complete applications for and enroll in a program of postsecondary education.
GEAR UP grantees should establish a reasonable definition of participated for purposes of scholarship eligibility and should communicate that requirement to students when they enter the GEAR UP program.
For purposes of estimating scholarship reserves and required funding, the Department will apply a rebuttable presumption that a grantee’s definition of “participated” that requires a student to be part of the same GEAR UP program for at least 50% of the program’s duration or for the student’s entire senior year of high school is consistent with the statute and regulations. (For example, in a six-year cohort model, a definition requiring the student to be a part of the program for at least 36 months, or their entire senior year of high school, would meet this presumption.) The Department believes that, given the activities required in the statute to be considered a participant for purposes of scholarship eligibility, this level of participation would generally help to make sure that students participate for enough time to benefit from them.TOP
25. May a GEAR UP State applicant request a waiver of the required scholarship allocation of federal GEAR UP funds?
Yes. GEAR UP State applicants may request a waiver in their application in which the Secretary may allow a State to use more than 50 percent of grant funds received for GEAR UP activities, if the State demonstrates with documentation in their application that the State has another means or multiple means of providing the students with GEAR UP scholarships and describes such means in their application. (See 20 U.S.C. § 1070a–25(b)(2)).TOP
26. What must a State applicant demonstrate and describe in its scholarship waiver request that must be included in the submitted application?
In requesting a waiver of the required scholarship allocation, a GEAR UP State applicant must demonstrate that they have another means or multiple means of providing scholarships that meet the minimum Pell Grant requirements under 20 U.S.C. 1070a-25(d) to students eligible for a GEAR UP scholarship as defined under 20 U.S.C. 1070a-25(g). States requesting an exception from the requirement that they spend at least 50 percent of their grant dollars on scholarships should provide documentation of those other means, such as:
- a comprehensive list of other sources of aid that reduce or eliminate the need for the grantee to provide GEAR UP scholarships to eligible students out of their federal funding;
- the projected number of students that the grantee expects to receive aid through those sources (e.g. based on past cohorts, if applicable); and
- an estimate of the number of students eligible for a GEAR UP scholarship that are not expected to receive aid through those other sources, if any.
27. Can a State identify more than one source for funds to cover the scholarship allocation not covered by federal GEAR UP funds?
Yes, the State should identify in its waiver request all of the sources of aid that will be covering the scholarships not covered by federal GEAR UP funds.TOP
28. What are some ways to avoid common application mistakes?
In every GEAR UP competition, applicants make avoidable mistakes that result in their application being rejected. To help reduce the chances that an application will be rejected for an avoidable mistake, please consider the following best practices:
- Submit your application early. Applications that are not fully uploaded and time-stamped by 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time on the application deadline date are considered late and are rejected. In every competition, the Department receives applications that are a few seconds after the deadline and are rejected. Follow the instructions in the Application Package and Common Instructions for Applicants to Department of Education Discretionary Grant Programs, published in the Federal Register on December 7, 2022 (87 FR 75045) and available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/12/07/2022-26554/common-instructions-for-applicants-to-department-of-education-discretionary-grant-programsPlease submit well in advance of the deadline.
- Check your ability to submit an application and verify your System for Award Management (SAM) registration well before the application deadline date. An applicant needs a UEI number in order to submit an application. If you do not have one, or need to renew one, this process can take weeks. As you know, successful registration in SAM is a prerequisite to being able to register in Grants.gov and submit an application electronically. Please consult the Application Package for more information.
- Adequately address the program requirements in the Notice. Applications that fail to adequately address the program requirements are considered incomplete and will be rejected.