Study: Challenge in Income-based Inequality Degree Attainment

“I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

– President Obama, 2009 address to a joint session of congress.

Increased scrutiny of college degree attainment is related to concern over the nation’s ability to remain competitive in an economy that is becoming more globally inclusive and complex. Many believe the nation’s standing and competitiveness is be- ing jeopardized as numerous countries begin and continue to surpass the United States in degree attainment. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2010), the United States ranks 12th out of 36 developed countries in the number of 25- to 34-year-old adults with some type of college degree (link). OECD data indicate that an increasing number of countries will catch or surpass the United States in tertiary degree attainment in coming years due to the lack of progress in educational attainment among the younger segment of adult Americans compared to their same- age peers in other countries.

In a new brief, Developing 20/20 Vision on the 2020 Degree Attainment Goal: The Threat of Income-Based Inequality in Education, the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education argues that most federal education policy discussions neglect to develop targeted interventions for students from low-income and working-class families. Using analysis from acclaimed higher education researcher Tom Mortenson, the report highlights that bachelor’s degree attainment for students from the wealthiest half of American families is higher than the bachelor’s degree attainment rates for all countries included in the OECD international comparison analysis. On the other hand, American students from families in the bottom half of the income distribution rank nearly last among other OECD countries in bachelor’s degree attainment.

Policy Recomendations:

1. Set and track goals to reduce income-based disparities on key educational outcomes related to the 2020 goal.

2. Funnel federal dollars, such as Title I funds, to the low-income, underperforming students who need it most. Invest in ways that offset disparities in per student expenditures created by state and local policies that give an advantage to students in wealthy school districts and neighborhoods.

3. Protect the Pell Grant against cuts that will reduce college access for low-income students.

4. Increase supplemental college access and support services for low-income students throughout the educational pipeline. Tap into the many benefits of supplemental academic support and outreach services such as TRIO and GEAR UP that are needed to help students from low-income families with the support they need to enroll and excel in college.

The recommendations they offer will not singlehandedly achieve the Administration’s goal, but they provide reasonable solutions that can help the nation reduce income-based inequalities in educational attainment and make progress toward the goal pos- sible by the year 2020.

Gov Shutdown Looms, GEAR UP Funding in Jeopardy

As part of a plan to slash more than $100 billion from the president’s proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2011, House Republicans have passed a bill that would cut funding for the U.S. Department of Education by $4.9 billion, an 8 percent reduction compared to 2010 spending. In an article in Education Week, Joel Packer, former director of educational policy and practice at the National Education Association said the House cuts “absolutely would be the largest cuts ever in history for education programs.”

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said in a statement:

The GOP approach “would knock the legs out from under our nascent economic recovery, kill jobs, and do virtually nothing to address the long-term fiscal crisis facing our country. Try as they might to convince the American people otherwise, it is simply not possible to balance the budget by targeting 15 percent of federal spending—no matter how deep the cuts are.”

The cuts are devastating not only for K-12 education but for college access programs as well. Programs like California GEAR UP that help low-income students would be hit particularly hard by these cuts. Under the House Republicans’ plan, the maximum award per student for Pell Grants—need-based grants to low-income college students that do not have to be repaid—would be reduced from $5,550 to $4,705. Funding for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which provide additional need-based grants for low-income students, would be eliminated entirely. In addition, the federal TRIO programs and GEAR UP, which both help low-income students pursue higher education, would lose $24.9 million and $19.8 million, respectively, compared to 2010 funding levels.

Deep cuts in GEAR UP would likely result in decreasing the number of lower income students who are prepared for university and actually attend college. As one of the most successful and far reaching college access programs, GEAR UP is crucial to schools, communities, and families that rely on these types of programs to make the difference in achieving their college dreams.

“GEAR UP has been shown to be the most successful of any federal program for improving the life chances of students from our poorest households by readying them, even as young teens, for possible success in higher education,” —Congressman Fattah, the father and author of GEAR UP legislation.

If, in fact, the government does shut down, it is vital that you contact your Members of Congress and demand that they pass legislation that funds education and protects GEAR UP. Legislators are hedging their bets that the government shutdown will work to their favor. You must let them know that our students’ futures amount to more than a political bargaining chip and hold them accountable for their responsibility to keep our nation afloat. Contact information for all Members of Congress is available at

Call to Action: GEAR UP Faces Funding Reduction

The House of Representatives and Senate have agreed on a two-week extension on federal spending for FY11, avoiding a government shutdown for the time being. Previous to this measure, another Continuing Resolution that expires March 4, 2011, was funding the government.

Although this new CR forestalls a government shutdown, it does not eliminate the threats challenging GEAR UP.  As you may know, the House of Representatives passed the Continuing Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 1) on February 19, 2011.  It stipulates the largest cuts in history to education programs ($11.55 billion total).  Many programs will suffer cuts or elimination, and GEAR UP faces a $19.8 million reduction in funding.

Enactment of such a bill (meaning passage by both the House and Senate) would:
1.    Decrease the number of awards available for the 2011 GEAR UP grant competition;
2.    Threaten GEAR UP’s growth and expansion, as funding levels set in FY11 could serve as a high-water mark for some years to come;
3.    Exclude more than 40,000 low-income, minority and disadvantaged students from receiving support on their journey to college.

Other important programs facing cuts or elimination are: Pell grants, supplemental education opportunity grants, LEAP, aid to minority-serving institutions, TRIO, Byrd honors scholarships, higher education teacher quality partnerships, statewide data systems and regional educational labs, amongst others.

We need you to help us stop these threats to GEAR UP, and education as a whole.

Call to Action (today through March 17, 2011)
Contact your Members of Congress now, specifically your Senators and ask them to reject spending cuts targeting GEAR UP.

Act Now:
1.  Call and/or write your Senators.
Ask them to reject the spending cuts proposed by the House of Representatives.  Emphasize how this measure might affect your GEAR UP site’s possibilities for future funding.  Talk about the potential effects your community and/or state would suffer if your GEAR UP grant is not renewed: drops in high school graduation rates; drops in college enrollment rates; jobs losses; decreased workforce competitiveness; etc.
You can find your Senators’ contact information here:

2. Set up meetings with your Senators. Face-to-face meetings with your Senators and/or their staff are a great way to make yourself heard.  Request them to oppose the spending cuts targeting GEAR UP.  Inform them of the consequences of the potential cuts and share success stories to illustrate the positive effects GEAR UP is having in your community.
You can find your Senators’ contact information here:

3. Contact local media. Share your thoughts on how these potential cuts would impact your GEAR UP site, your community and possibly jeopardize future funding for continuing the fight to level the playing field in college access for low-income, minority and disadvantaged students.

Whatever you choose to do is great.  All actions work to get your voice heard on Capitol Hill.

The most important thing is to act, NOW.

Santa Ana GEAR UP Partnership Celebrates Trust Awards

The GEAR UP Santa Ana College GEAR UP Partnership is proud of the two intermediate school students, participants in Santa Ana College’s very successful Talent Search/TRIO program, who recently received State GEAR UP Educational Trust Awards. Santa Ana College recognized our two local recipients, Manuel Velasquez from Willard Intermediate, and Ricardo Franco from McFadden Intermediate, at their annual Santa Ana 2000 High School Scholarship Awards Ceremony on June 2nd.

“Although these students are not yet in high school, including them in this ceremony with high school graduates and at the college, communicates to them and their families that these youngsters are scholars who are on track to go to college,” said Dr. Lilia Tanakeyowma, Director of GEAR UP Santa Ana.

Mr. Velasquez said “I am proud of my son and know he will go to college and be a successful man.” Their intermediate school principals joined the high school principals for the first time at this ceremony at the college and pledged to see more of their students have these opportunities and join all efforts available to prepare them for college.

“The Santa Ana Unified School District, after the impact GEAR UP has shown in their early college preparation work at the middle schools, has now instituted a district wide college and career planning curriculum starting in the 6th grade. This recognition of middle school students at this scholarship event is confirmation of our collaborative commitment to early college preparation,” expressed Dr. Tanakeyowma.

~Special thanks to everyone at Santa Ana GEAR UP who made the celebration possible, and thanks to Dr.Tanakeyowma for sharing their success with us for our blog.

What is your GEAR UP program doing to celebrate the Education Trust Award recipients?