A phenomenological study exploring GEAR UP students’ perceptions of post-secondary preparedness.


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The Rio Grande Valley is a predominantly Hispanic region with a high population of low socioeconomic students. These students are typically underserved in post-secondary education. Socioeconomic disparities and obstacles as minorities lead to a lack of academic and social preparedness for the rigors of post-secondary education. Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) provides services and information to develop and motivate low socioeconomic students to attend post-secondary colleges and universities. Research findings show that college access programs focus on the accountability of student success, data-driven program decisions, and policy changes that can assist underserved students (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). GEAR UP is a cohort model designed to increase the number of low socioeconomic students prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education. Qualitative findings from semi-structured interviews and an anonymous questionnaire of former GEAR UP cohort students highlight the perception of the overall effectiveness and importance of required program services in the development of academic achievement and success. The participants were Hispanic adults and while in the program identified as low socioeconomic students who are typically underrepresented in post-secondary education. Prior studies describe program participation and evidence of increased preparation in other areas of the country. This phenomenological study explored student perceptions of GEAR UP’s impact on academic preparation for post-secondary education, enrollment, and success in the Rio Grande Valley. All participants spoke about the positive impact that GEAR UP had on their decision to attend a post-secondary institution and their preparedness for academic and social success. The GEAR UP services have a strong connection to Conley’s Keys to College and Career Readiness. GEAR UP students described the additional aspects: relationship with the GEAR UP counselor or facilitator, sense of belonging, and the parental awareness and education component of GEAR UP as vital in their preparation. Results indicate that GEAR UP grants need to explore student perspectives and feedback when evaluating and planning GEAR UP services.



GEAR UP. Post-secondary education. Low socioeconomic status. First-generation student. Underrepresented student. Hispanic. GEAR UP services. College and career readiness.