UT Austin’s Institute for Public School Initiatives Awarded Grant to Improve the Educational Outcomes for Students in Texas

The Department of Education has awarded a $33.9 million dollar grant to The University of Texas at Austin through the Institute for Public School Initiatives (IPSI). The seven-year award ($4.8 million, first year) will support the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) Partnership Program which utilizes current research to focus supplementary services to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

IPSI, which serves as the fiscal agent for the partnership, collaborates with six school districts, other institutions of higher education, corporations and community organizations to serve over 6,000 students in Central and East Texas starting in middle school and continuing into postsecondary education.

We sat down with Principal Investigators Matt Orem, executive director of IPSI, and Connie Dawes, director of IPSI, to learn more about the grant and the GEAR UP Program.

Tell us more about your program and what you hope to accomplish with the grant?

The GEAR UP program is a federally funded program designed to help students and families seek higher education and a better life. We are privileged to have been awarded by the U.S. Department of Education a highly competitive and substantive grant to connect the best of our collective research as universities with practitioners, families and students.

This praxis is what makes GEAR UP one of the largest, most comprehensive and effective college, career and life readiness programs in the country. With this most recent round of funding, UT Austin will devote approximately $4.8 million in federal funds and significant matching funds over seven years to improve the educational, economic and life outcomes of families in Texas.

Why is this grant important?

We know from the September 2022 National Report Card (NAEP) that students have clearly suffered deficits in reading and math since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, college enrollment rates for 18 to 24-year-olds in the U.S. have been declining despite the job market’s need for more training after high school. This issue is not only important in the U.S., but critical for the world, the world economy, mobility and opportunity.

What inspired you to submit a proposal?

Under the wing of the College of Education at UT Austin, the Institute for Public School Initiatives has been committed since its founding to the mission of improving K-12 education and preparing students for higher education. The GEAR UP program has been a natural fit and partner in this effort since our first participation in the program with the Texas Education Agency in 2012. We have benefited from the scope and expertise of UT Austin as well as our dedicated staff of practitioners who are well versed with the in-school, in-classroom and in-home experiences of the students, families, teachers, administrators and communities we serve. It is these people that inspired our proposal.

What are some of the ways you are going to serve students?

With our districts as equal partners, and with support from others such as UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences GEOForce, Dell Medical Center, Texas A&M University Construction Science Program, Austin Community College, Sam Houston State, the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, MDLive (Mental and Behavioral Health), Texas Instruments and other business and student service providers, the grant will focus on a cohort of 6,078 sixth (3,023) and seventh (3,055) grade at risk, low-income, first generation, English learners, students with disabilities and those less likely to succeed academically, following them through their first year of college.

This work includes providing supplemental support for rigorous coursework (advanced placement, dual enrollment), intervention education, competency-based learning, in-demand industry and STEM, project-based learning, academic tutoring/mentoring, guidance and advising, college test preparation, summer bridge, student leadership, academic development, college readiness, financial literacy, flexible paths/work-based learning, mental health support and rural schools support.

For families, the grant will provide college readiness training, financial literacy, college knowledge and tours, leadership skills and academic support services. For educators it will provide professional development in technology integration, pedagogy, differentiated instruction, remote/online instruction, assessment, leadership, college/career readiness, credentials and Counselors Academies. In the seventh year, the grant will provide first-year college students with ongoing retention services and enhanced academic and career advising and tutoring to ensure graduation.

How did you choose the schools?

GEAR UP schools were chosen based on academic and economic need as well as the administration’s willingness to provide matching support for the entire seven-year duration of the grant. The UT Austin 2022 GEAR UP grant will be implemented in 10 middle schools, six high schools and six school districts, of which four districts and five middle schools are categorized as rural in Central and East Texas.