NORMAN — Gov. Mary Fallin has proclaimed this week as National GEAR UP Week in Oklahoma. During this event, I encourage families to join our effort in preparing more students for college success.
GEAR UP is a federal grant program that helps provide students and families with needed resources for college preparation, access and success. Oklahoma has been a GEAR UP grant recipient since 1999 and has helped thousands of students prepare for college through readiness and awareness activities.
By making resources available statewide, GEAR UP helps families understand the value of college. A college planning hotline is available with helpful staff that speak English and Spanish at 800-858-1840. To find information about colleges, financial aid and guides for college planning by grade level, visit OKcollegestart.org. Families may also stop by GEAR UP’s Plan4College Centers located across the state to browse and pick up planning resources (find the nearest one at okhighered.org/gearup/plan-4-college.shtml).
GEAR UP also works locally within 24 state school districts, providing services proven to help students better prepare for and succeed in college. Teachers participate in research-based, best-practices training that helps strengthen classroom effectiveness, student participation and achievement.
All students in grades seven through 12 receive free assistance with ACT and test preparation, have opportunities to tour college campuses, participate in science, engineering, technology and math institutes, and learn about careers and necessary skillsets for success. GEAR UP goes into the community, providing messages that reinforce the value of a college education and empowering parents to become education advocates for their community.
While planning resources are helpful, the most valuable factor in a student’s decision to attend college is often their families. Many times, a student’s decision to attend college evolves from their hearing about it from family and friends. It’s a fact: the earlier we start talking to students about the benefits of college and the more they hear about it, the more likely they are to attend college and earn their degree.
The message is simple: a college degree equals more opportunities for jobs. College graduates typically enjoy higher-paying careers and a better quality of life in the long run. In fact, college graduates earn more than $1 million over their lifetimes than those with just a high school diploma.
A college degree is quickly becoming even more valuable. Fallin and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce recently surveyed businesses across our state, and the results clearly showed that the quality of our two- and four-year college and university system was the No. 1 business climate strength in the state. Businesses are locating here and counting on our colleges and universities to produce quality graduates. This means our efforts to do more in preparing our students for higher education are on track. We must talk to students about college and prepare them so they can participate and succeed in our state’s economy.
Fallin, along with other education leaders, also announced recently that Oklahoma has joined a nationwide initiative, Complete College America, to increase our degree completion efforts by focusing on readiness (preparing earlier), reducing remediation rates and working with CareerTech to build bridges between technical certificates and college degrees.
Our state is working hard to help more students achieve their dreams of a college degree. We encourage you to join us in our efforts. We encourage you to discuss higher education with perspective college students you know who need guidance and support. Talk to them about how a college degree can help them achieve their dreams. For resources to start the conversation, visit OKcollegestart.org or call the student information hotline at 800-858-1840.
Glen D. Johnson is chancellor of the Oklahoma System of Higher Education comprised of 25 public colleges and universities.