Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Fattah Not Resting on GEAR UP's Laurels

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Fattah Not Resting on GEAR UP's Laurels

Article excerpt

After nearly 15 years on Capitol Hill, Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., still has lofty goals for U.S. education policy in the years ahead.

A driving force behind the decade-old GEAR UP program that helps middle and high school students prepare for college, Fattah says the nation has learned a lot about what works with low-income youth. "But we have yet to apply it across the board," he told Diverse.

"We've learned how to open up access to college and graduate more students from high school," he says. "What we haven't done is take it to scale."

Finding more funds for GEAR UP and similar initiatives are priorities for the lawmaker, who represents northern and western neighborhoods in Philadelphia. He is in a position to help on the budget front since he is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which sets funding annually for thousands of federal programs.

He says he wants to double the federal investment in GEAR UP, which receives $300 million a year.

"The program (has) had extraordinary success," he says, noting that participants are graduating from high school and enrolling in college at rates higher than the norm for low-income students.

In fact, Fattah says, there is international interest in the program from countries such as China and Mexico. Fattah talked about the project recently with officials from the European Union, who were interested in the concept, he says, because of concerns about "disaffected young people who have not found their way into the mainstream."

But despite success, he says, GEAR UP's reach remains limited because of its small size relative to the nationwide need.

"GEAR UP is at the margins compared to the 50 million kids in our public schools," says Fattah. To help scale up other strategies that work, Fattah sees other potential gains on the horizon such as President Barack Obama's plan to improve college-completion rates. As part of that initiative, the nation would invest more in need-based student aid. In addition, community colleges would receive about $12 billion to expand their services and outreach. For many low-income students, "Community colleges can get them started in higher education," Fattah says.

But closer to home, Fattah still sees lingering challenges in his home state of Pennsylvania. …

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