Connecticut is receiving a seven-year, $25.8 million Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Naugatuck Valley Community College is one of three Connecticut community colleges collaborating with local public schools to implement the program. NVCC in partnership with Waterbury Public Schools will work to accomplish the GEAR UP goal, which is to help students prepare for the rigors of a college education.
With GEAR UP funding, NVCC and the Waterbury public schools, will work with students starting in seventh grade to increase the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. Through this alliance, students from high-need areas will receive early college awareness and support activities like tutoring, mentoring, academic preparation, financial education, and college scholarships to improve access to higher education for low income, minority and disadvantaged first-generation students and their families.
Commenting on NVCC’s role in this collaboration, College President Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D. noted, “Working to improve educational outcomes for students in Waterbury and all of our service areas is one of our dearest goals at NVCC. We are grateful for the continued opportunity to collaborate in support of improved completions for grades seven through high school and ultimately the college attendance that the GEAR UP grant affords our community.”
The funding was awarded to the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU), which will administer the funding and oversee the alliances. This round of GEAR UP funding is slated to run through 2026.
In 2012, Connecticut was awarded a seven-year, $31.5 million GEAR UP grant, of which the city of Waterbury received $11.2 million. Since 2012, Naugatuck Valley Community College (NVCC) had served as fiduciary for Waterbury, administering the grant through its Bridge to College Office. Under the program, students saw steady progress in preparing low income and underserved students for academic success through high school and successful enrollment in postsecondary education.
Commenting on the success of the first round of GEAR UP funding and the opportunity presented by the renewed grant, President De Filippis said, “I am delighted to partner once again with the Waterbury Public School system, and in particular in this case, with Superintendent Ruffin, on what has proven to be a very collaborative and positive experience for the students and the communities we both serve. From the onset of the 2012 grant activities, the Waterbury Team established GEAR UP offices in all of the serving schools, an initiative that remained constant throughout the life of the grant. The GEAR UP offices helped to establish GEAR UP services as an integral facet of each school and assisted staff in developing meaningful relationships with students, school administration, faculty and staff. The results are very positive. For instance, 83.2% of Waterbury GEAR UP students graduated from high school in 2019, a 6.2% increase from 2017. In addition, for the classes of 2018 and 2019, a total of 1,071 students enrolled at either NVCC or Southern CT State University, which means 50% of the cohort enrolled in a CSCU institution as a college student. These students were able to enroll tuition-free thanks to the GEAR UP grant. This is a truly significant achievement.”
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary commented on the success of the first grant and the confidence in NVCC and the Waterbury public schools shown by the renewal. “NVCC and the Waterbury public schools have formed a dynamic, effective partnership that make a difference for our students.”
Dr. Verna Ruffin, Superintendent of Waterbury Schools commented, “GEAR UP will open doors of opportunity for our students in Waterbury, particularly those from low-income and disadvantaged first-generation college attendees. Early awareness and access to highly rigorous courses and support are critically important as we strive to implement Portrait of a Graduate and assure our students are college and career ready.”