Arizona GEAR UP: Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs

About us

Arizona GEAR UP is an innovative college access program that works.

The numbers tell the story: 73% of Gear Up students graduate high school and go onto college – a number that far exceeds the Arizona average.

Created in 1999 through a federal grant, GEAR UP is aimed specifically at students from low-income communities statewide. Because of GEAR UP's track record of success, the grant was renewed in 2012; Arizona GEAR UP is in the sixth year of the seven-year grant cycle. 

Arizona GEAR UP is successful because it is unique. It differs from other college access programs by:

  • Catching the attention of students early in their academic lives, starting in 7th grade.
  • Raising the academic aspiration of an entire group (cohort) of students. Rather than working just with individuals at the disparate locations, we work with an entire grade level at a school. The group learns to dream together, cultivating the motivation, knowledge and skills needed to succeed along the pathway to college.
  • Keeping these groups of children together all the way through high school.
  • Working with parents to alleviate fears and elevate expectations.
  • Enlisting the support of parents, teachers, guidance counselors, school administrators and community groups.

Scroll down to learn more about Arizona GEAR UP.

Vision & Values

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We see an Arizona where all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, attain the postsecondary education they need to lead rewarding, productive lives.


To significantly increase the number of students from low-income communities, who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

 Core Values, Beliefs, and Commitments:


  1. We believe education changes lives.
  2. We believe in equitable educational opportunity for all students.
  3. We believe student success is fostered by caring adults, high expectations, and hard work.    
  4. We are committed to college and career readiness beginning in the middle grades.      
  5. We embrace diversity and believe all students can reach their full potential with proper support.
  6. We are committed to positive relationships, teamwork, collaboration, and partnering with others.
  7. We believe in using data to inform program planning, strategy, and implementation.
  8. We continuously learn, change, and improve.
  9. We work with integrity.
  10. We are dedicated to student success.



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GEAR UP is a federally-funded college-access program started in 1999, authorized under the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), now in 47 states. The purpose of GEAR UP is to significantly increase the number of students from low-income communities who graduate from high school prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

Project Components

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The design of Arizona GEAR UP 2012-19 includes three project components:

  1. Cohort Student Services, serving 4,000 students in 12 rural high schools in six AZ counties;
  2. Middle Grade Initiative, impacting  over 6000 students at 16 schools statewide; and
  3. Local and State Collaborations, advancing broader and shared aims with multiple entities.

Additionally, Arizona GEAR UP 2012-19 embraces the importance of evaluation and research through an Initiative on the Study of College and Career Readiness, and is a member of the multi-state GEAR UP College and Career Readiness Evaluation Consortium. 

Because the GEAR UP cohort approach ensures that all students in particular grades are served, the program is a natural vehicle for systemic change.

Benefits of GEAR UP

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The first and most important benefit of Arizona GEAR UP is: it works.

In 2012, GEAR UP students - who had been in the program for five years - graduated from high school at a rate of 83%, nearly three times the state average. 72% of these students are verified to have enrolled in college in the fall. 

The success of these Arizona GEAR UP students is the result of a broad range of intervention and enrichment activities. Benefits of the program include: 

Improved attendance

GEAR UP Site Directors examine why students miss class and then implement programs - proactive and reactive - to encourage students to attend their classes. Creating interventions that address the reasons for absenteeism is the key to solving the problem.

Better grades

Through tutoring, mentoring, improved attendance, academic enrichment activities, and the encouragement and inspiration they receive from their Site Directors, GEAR UP students do better in school, and their grades reflect this. Between the first and third years of the Program, the percentage of Arizona GEAR UP students achieving grades of B or better in mathematics and language arts increased.

Higher expectations

A fundamental GEAR UP premise is that children will live up to, or down to, the expectations that are held for them. GEAR UP sponsors training for site staff, faculty and administration, parents, and mentors on the Power of High Expectations.

As a result, GEAR UP students regularly and consistently hear that they will graduate from high school, are capable of succeeding in college, and that they have the support they need to do both. Because parents and students alike are provided information about the cost of college and the availability of financial aid and scholarships, they learn that money does not have to be a barrier to post-secondary education.

Higher enrollment in college prerequisite courses

Through one-on-one academic counseling, GEAR UP Site Directors ensure that students are enrolling and succeeding in classes required for college admission (classes which are often more advanced than those required for high school graduation).

Increased scores on standardized tests

Through tutoring, mentoring, improved attendance, academic enrichment activities, and the encouragement and inspiration they receive from their Site Directors, GEAR UP students often do better on standardized tests like the AIMS.

Enhanced knowledge of the value and cost of college

GEAR UP-sponsored Financial Aid and College Preparation workshops, one-on-one counseling and numerous written communiqués to parents (in English and Spanish) give parents and students a more realistic picture of how much college will cost and how much financial aid is available. Assistance in finding and applying for scholarships provides concrete financial assistance. Job shadowing and career workshops let students experience first-hand the kinds of careers that will be available to them when they succeed in college.

Increased high school graduation rates

With improved attendance and grades, inspired and encouraged by mentors and their Site Directors, and motivated by the expectation of going to college and the possibility of a rewarding career, the dropout rate among GEAR UP students is lower than the dropout rate of comparable non-GEAR UP students.

Outcomes/Evidence of success

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  • Class of 2006:
    • 82 percent graduation rate (69 percent for state)
    • 75 percent college-going rate* (45 percent for state)
    •  Class of 2012:
      • 83 percent graduation rate (76 percent for state)
      • 72 percent college-going rate* (51 percent for state)

    *Each student’s actual attendance in college was verified in the fall of the year they graduated.

    Contact us

    State GEAR UP Office:

    Arizona GEAR UP
    15451 N. 28th Ave.
    Phoenix, AZ 85053

    Phone: (602) 776-4616

    Fax: (602) 776-4619