GEAR UP Facing Criticism
Congressional sponsors of the 2-year-old Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs have beaten back attempts to terminate the initiative, but prospects for future funding growth may be dimming.
House and Senate negotiators in late July rejected White House recommendations to increase funding for the program from $200 million to $325 million. Instead, Republican leaders would freeze funding at the current level, a move that, if enacted, may hamper administration efforts to offer new grants under the program. Twenty-one states and nearly 200 local partnerships received funds in the first round of grant awards last summer.
Since that time, however, the program has come under criticism on several fronts, particularly from financial aid administrators who call the program’s regulations cumbersome. GEAR UP’s goal is to help middle-school youth prepare for college, and the program also contains a scholarship provision for these youth once they reach higher education. But some administrators say the scholarship rules undermine college flexibility in awarding financial aid packages.
Others have said GEAR UP duplicates the work of the federal TRIO programs, and this criticism came to a head recently in the House, where some conservatives introduced an amendment to terminate the program. Still, lawmakers voted 318 to 98 against the plan, which pleased lawmakers such as Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., an architect of the program. Yet he says the program’s true test is to expand beyond last year’s initial grants.
“The buck doesn’t stop here. We must make this program available to millions of other students,” he says.
About 200,000 middle-school students participated in the program this year through mentor programs, campus visits and other services. The program is a favorite of President Clinton’s, and some analysts believe year-end budget negotiations between Congress and the White House still may lead to a funding increase next year.
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