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Heather Doe
Iowa Department of Education
(515) 281-7967 

$50,000 each awarded to six community colleges in partnership with local school districts

DES MOINES — The Iowa Department of Education and Iowa College Aid today awarded six $50,000 competitive grants to help establish new college and career transition counselor positions that will focus on preparing more high school students for success in college, postsecondary career training and the workforce. 

Des Moines Area Community College, Hawkeye Community College, Iowa Lakes Community College, Iowa Valley Community College District, Kirkwood Community College and Western Iowa Tech Community College each won a start-up grant to support new college and career transition counselors who will work in partnership with area school districts and their students and families to support career exploration and transitioning to college and career training. The college and career counselors will work closely with high school juniors and seniors during the school year as well as the summer after high school graduation and their first year of college or career training.

“Expanding college and career transition counselor roles will help more students explore opportunities and take steps for continued success beyond high school,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo. “I commend our community colleges and school district partners for their commitment to ensuring students identify their future goals and stay on a path to gain the education and skills needed for rewarding careers.”

The grants will support 13 new college and career transition counselors who will work with students in 22 school districts across the state—ADM, Ames, Ankeny, Boone, Cedar Rapids, Collins-Maxwell, East Marshall, Estherville Lincoln Central, Grinnell-Newburg, Interstate 35, Johnston, Knoxville, Okoboji, Ogden, PCM, Perry, Sioux City, Southeast Polk, Spencer, Van Meter, Waterloo and West Des Moines. 

Supported by the federal Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, commonly referred to as Perkins V, and additional financial support from Iowa College Aid, the three-year grants will help establish college and career transition counselors for academic years 2021-22 through 2023-24. To make these shared positions sustainable, ongoing funding will be provided by the colleges and districts.

“Our research shows that about 1 in 5 high school seniors who intend to start college don’t actually get there,” said Iowa College Aid Executive Director Mark Wiederspan. “These counseling positions will be crucial to helping more young Iowans follow through on their college plans.”

Iowa College Aid will provide training and professional development through its Iowa College and Career Readiness Academy. Iowa’s Area Education Agency Postsecondary Readiness and Equity Partnership (AEA PREP) will assist with ongoing training and program evaluation.

Expanding college and career transition counselors statewide aligns with the state’s Future Ready Iowa goal, which calls for 70 percent of Iowa’s workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. 

This is the first year of awards. Applications for future three-year grant cycles will be open in 2022 and 2023.

More information is available on the Iowa Department of Education’s website.

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Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Program prepares underserved students for college and career success

Thirteen Iowa school districts have been selected as partners in applying for a GEAR UP grant to begin this fall, Iowa College Aid announced today. GEAR UP is a federal program to increase college and career access and readiness for low-income, minority, and first-generation students. If Iowa receives the grant, it will be the state’s third.

GEAR UP Iowa, administered by Iowa College Aid, supports students and families from seventh grade through the first year of college. The program helps schools provide services that include college and career exploration, academic support, “soft skill” development, and assistance with college and financial aid applications. GEAR UP Iowa also places coaches in schools and provides resources for school counselors and other staff. When GEAR UP Iowa students enroll in college, they receive a scholarship.

GEAR UP Iowa 1.0 received a $16.8 million matching grant to serve the high school class of 2014 in 17 districts. GEAR UP Iowa 2.0 received $22.4 million to serve the high school class of 2020 in 12 districts. GEAR UP Iowa 3.0, pending approval of the grant, is expected to serve the high school class of 2027 in the following districts that applied to be partners in Iowa College Aid’s proposal:

  • Cedar Rapids
  • Centerville
  • Clinton
  • Columbus Junction
  • Davenport
  • Davis County
  • Denison
  • Des Moines
  • Fort Dodge
  • Marshalltown
  • Saydel
  • South Tama
  • Storm Lake

These 13 districts encompass about 6,300 students who will be in seventh grade this fall. Centerville, Davis County, Saydel, and South Tama are new to GEAR UP Iowa; the others are returning from 2.0. For a district to take part, at least half its students must qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

“Our goal is to make college more accessible to underserved students, and we have data showing that GEAR UP works,” said Dr. Mark Wiederspan, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “Studies of our first two grants show that GEAR UP Iowa students are more likely to apply to college, apply for financial aid, and to go to college than their non-GEAR UP peers. They also have higher standardized test scores and higher high school attendance rates. We’re optimistic about receiving a third grant and excited to extend these benefits to a new group of Iowa students.”

Learn more about the federal program here. Learn more about GEAR UP Iowa here.



Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Iowa College Aid recommends mandatory FAFSA to help fight ‘summer melt’

Applying for financial aid greatly increases the likelihood that students will follow through on their college plans, according to a research brief from Iowa College Aid.

In Iowa, about 1 in 5 high school graduates who indicate that they plan to attend college do not actually enroll the following fall, a phenomenon known as “summer melt.” Iowa College Aid found that students who file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are less likely to melt by 36 percentage points.

“College enrollment among new high school graduates has been slipping in Iowa,” said Mark Wiederspan, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “To meet future workforce demands, we need to move the other direction. By identifying this factor that contributes to summer melt, we can help students who want to go to college achieve that goal.”

Iowa College Aid recommends that the state consider requiring high school students to file the FAFSA, which determines eligibility for all federal aid and most state and institutional aid. Three states—Louisiana, Texas, and Illinois—have put such a requirement in place in the past three years. While these FAFSA mandates are relatively new, early research has found that they significantly decrease the gap in filing rates between high-income and low-income school districts, connecting more of the neediest students with financial aid opportunities.

The agency also recommends that Iowa administer a survey about students’ post-high school plans earlier in their high school years. Iowa students currently take the survey near the end of senior year, long after they ideally would have applied for financial aid. An earlier survey would allow school counselors and other staff to identify college-intending students and help them with the FAFSA.

Iowa has already begun taking steps to increase FAFSA completion rates. For instance, Iowa College Aid’s Course to College program helps participating schools identify and assist students who plan to go to college. The Virtual College Coach, launched a year ago, helps students with steps they need to take, including the FAFSA. Completion rates in Iowa had been rising until the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This new research underscores the importance of the FAFSA,” Wiederspan said. “Taking further steps to ensure that Iowa students apply for financial aid will help them fulfill their college intentions.”

This research is the first to focus specifically on summer melt in Iowa. Read the full brief here.





Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Class of 2027 Will Receive College Access Support Beginning in 7th Grade

GEAR UP Iowa is looking for partner school districts for the next cycle of the program to increase college and career access and readiness. GEAR UP seeks districts that are committed to developing innovative supports tailored to students in their communities.

GEAR UP Iowa is a federal grant administered by Iowa College Aid with the primary goal of increasing the number of students in partner schools who graduate from high school prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. With a particular emphasis on low-income and underserved populations, GEAR UP addresses the root causes of college achievement gaps. GEAR UP Iowa has been a component of the state’s efforts to meet its Future Ready Iowa Goal that 70 percent of the workforce will have education or training beyond high school by 2025.

Students and families in GEAR UP Iowa school districts receive support services to prepare them academically, financially, and inspirationally to enroll and succeed in college, beginning in seventh grade and following them through their first year of college. These services include early college exploration such as campus visits, guidance on the value of postsecondary education, academic support such as tutoring and test prep, career exposure such as job site visits, college fairs, help with college and financial aid applications, and “soft skill” development such as attitudes and habits. When they enroll in college, GEAR UP Iowa students receive a scholarship. For districts, the program places GEAR UP coaches, helps align college and career readiness goals, and provides resources for school counselors and other staff. 

GEAR UP Iowa expects to start its next cycle in fall 2021, supporting seventh-graders who will graduate from high school in 2027. Previous cycles served the high school classes of 2014 and 2020, with encouraging results. During their four years in high school, the GEAR UP Iowa class of 2020 received nearly 219,000 hours of support services. They were 20 percentage points more likely to take the ACT than students in non-GEAR UP districts. Financial aid applications this year grew by 3 percentage points at GEAR UP Iowa schools, even as they fell at other Iowa schools and at schools nationwide. Almost 40 percent of 2020 GEAR UP Iowa graduates have already claimed their college scholarships.

For a district to take part in GEAR UP Iowa, at least half its students must qualify for free or reduced price lunch. To indicate interest and receive more information, a district representative should fill out the survey at by December 31. For more information about GEAR UP Iowa, visit or email


The grants will help power Iowa’s economic recovery by incentivizing creation and expansion of Registered Apprenticeship programs with emphasis on recruiting individuals affected by the pandemic

Governor Reynolds announced two new Registered Apprenticeship grant opportunities totaling $10 million funded by the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Registered Apprenticeships provide training in an “earn and learn” model that helps employers create the workforce they need. They are an employer-driven model, combining on-the-job learning with related classroom instruction, providing the Apprentice with a nationally recognized credential and employers with a skilled worker at the end of the program. 

The first grant opportunity is available to high schools, nonprofits, and small businesses with less than 50 employees.  These grants total $5 million, with a maximum award of $50,000 per applicant.  The second grant opportunity is available to post-secondary institutions or healthcare employers. These grants also total $5 million, with a maximum award of $250,000 per applicant. Both grants can be used to purchase equipment, tools, simulators, instructional materials, updated curriculum, or other necessary items to expand or create Registered Apprenticeship programs that provide for online learning as well as hands-on learning when necessary and safe. Priority is given to programs targeting individuals whose employment has been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Grant applications must be tied to an existing Registered Apprenticeship program or commit to starting a new program no later than December 31, 2020.  Applicants for both grant opportunities must also certify an intention to recruit from individuals who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, minority or underrepresented communities, veterans, and the disabled.   



Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Lawmakers praise program to promote college access for underserved students

GEAR UP Iowa is recognizing its students and college partners as part of national GEAR UP Week, September 21-25. GEAR UP is a federal grant aimed at increasing college access and success for students in low-income school districts. Iowa’s current GEAR UP students graduated from high school this past spring and have just begun their postsecondary education. They include more than 6,000 students from 12 school districts. GEAR UP began offering college awareness and preparation services when the students were in seventh grade and will continue to support them through the coming year with a scholarship of up to $1,200 a year, as well as college success coaching.

The national GEAR UP program was established in 1998, and Iowa received its first grant in 2008. The current grant is Iowa’s second and serves to move the state toward its Future Ready Iowa goal of 70 percent of the workforce having education beyond high school by 2025. GEAR UP has enjoyed longstanding, bipartisan support in both houses of Congress and among Iowa’s delegation.

Senator Charles Grassley praised both GEAR UP and Iowa College Aid, the state agency that administers the grant. “The GEAR UP program seeks to bridge the gap for many students and families who are looking to further their education after high school,” he said. “Education is one of the most important tools in our society, and I applaud the effort by Iowa College Aid to help low-income, minority, and first-generation Iowans looking to attend college.”

Representative Cindy Axne related her experience with GEAR UP students and her own children. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet with graduates whose success is in no small part thanks to the help and assistance they received at GEAR UP and Iowa College Aid,” she said. “As a mom who just sent my first child off to college, I know firsthand how confusing and stressful this process can be. GEAR UP Iowa is making sure parents, students, and families have the knowledge and assistance they need.”

While GEAR UP students graduated from high school in uncertain times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has been successful on multiple fronts:

  • 50 percent of GEAR UP Iowa students had completed a FAFSA as of July 2—a gain of 4 percent from a year earlier at those schools, even as the national FAFSA filing rate fell by 4 percent.
  • 88 percent of GEAR UP Iowa's 2020 high school graduates plan to complete a two-year, four-year, or higher college degree.
  • 69 percent of GEAR UP Iowa students took the ACT in 11th grade, exceeding the baseline at their schools by 21 percent.
  • GEAR UP Iowa students had higher attendance, greater gains in reading and math proficiency from seventh through 10th grade, and higher rates of college readiness in reading than their non-GEAR UP peers.

As part of its ongoing effort to help students make a successful transition from high school to college, GEAR UP Iowa has awarded grants to the following college partners:

  • Des Moines Area Community College
  • Drake University
  • Eastern Iowa Community College
  • Grand View University
  • Indian Hills Community College
  • Iowa State University
  • Simpson College
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Northern Iowa

GEAR UP Iowa students came from the following school districts:

  • Cedar Rapids
  • Clinton
  • Columbus Junction
  • Davenport
  • Denison
  • Des Moines
  • Fort Dodge
  • Marshalltown
  • Ottumwa
  • Perry
  • Sioux City
  • Storm Lake

Find more information about current services for GEAR UP Iowa students at



Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

South Tama High School honored for college application efforts

South Tama High School has earned national recognition for its efforts to increase the number of students applying for college, especially those who will be first-generation college students and those from lower-income families.

South Tama was named a 2019 School of Excellence by the American College Application Campaign, recognizing the school’s “commitment to student success, and serving as an exemplary model for their state’s application campaign.”

Iowa College Aid, which administers Iowa’s College Application Campaign, nominated South Tama because of its well-organized and highly successful 2019 campaign. The school had 103 seniors participate, and 91 percent of them completed at least one college application.

“As Iowa works toward its Future Ready Iowa goal of 70 percent of the workforce having education beyond high school by 2025, South Tama High School is leading the way with its efforts to raise college application rates,” said Dr. Mark Wiederspan, Executive Director of Iowa College Aid. “By continuing their education, these students position themselves, their communities, and the entire state for long-term success.”

During the 2019 American College Application Campaign:

  • Nearly 7,300 high schools, including 103 in Iowa, hosted an event.
  • More than 763,400 seniors, including 2,269 in Iowa, submitted at least one college application.
  • More than 1.2 million college applications were submitted, including 8,657 in Iowa.

“Congratulations to South Tama High School for its vision and leadership,” said Melissa Caperton, Director of the American College Application Campaign. “You’ve led the way in your community, your state, and your nation. We are thrilled to take this moment to recognize your impactful work.”

The 2020 College Application Campaign will kick off with #WhyApply Day on Friday, September 18.

The American College Application Campaign is a national initiative designed to increase the number of first-generation college students and students from low-income families who pursue a postsecondary degree. Iowa College Aid is the state agency that administers state-funded financial aid programs and college access and success programs, including Course to College, of which the Iowa College Application Campaign is a component. Learn more at




Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Receiving their awards from Ambassador Terry E. Branstad, left to right: Abigail Kelly of Des Moines, Ruth Marth of Estherville, and Blake Van Der Kamp of Prairie City.

Ambassador Terry E. Branstad honored three young Iowans who earned his namesake scholarship today. The former Iowa Governor presented certificates to the students, who will start college this fall, in a small reception at the State Historical Building. They were chosen based on participation in the fair, extracurricular activities, volunteer service to their communities, GPA, and an essay explaining the fair’s impact on their lives.

“I’ve always been a strong supporter of Iowa agriculture and the Iowa State Fair,” Branstad told the students and their families. “I believe the fair is a great opportunity for young people to showcase their talents.”

Each student will receive $2,000 to attend an Iowa college or university during the 2020-21 academic year. This year’s recipients of the Governor Terry E. Branstad Iowa State Fair Scholarship:

  • Abigail Kelly of Des Moines is the 2020 Iowa Honey Queen and a volunteer at the Iowa Honey Producers Association fair booth. Two of her 4-H projects about beekeeping were selected to represent Polk County at the State Fair, and she has entered honey, beeswax candles, beeswax art, photography, and extracted frames and honey frames in competition, as well as competing in the adult piano playing competition. In 2019, she painted kindness rocks and hid them around the fair. Abigail also volunteers for her local library’s reading program, plays piano at her church, and serves as volunteer beekeeper at the Science Center of Iowa. She says the fair has pushed her out of her comfort zone and helped her grow as a public speaker and performer. She plans to attend Faith Baptist Bible College.
  • Ruth Marth of Estherville has earned six blue ribbons at the State Fair for sewing and needle arts, communication, clothing and fashion, and welding, as well as five Seals of Merit and one Seal of Excellence for extemporaneous speaking and education presentations. While the Seal of Excellence was a longtime goal, Ruth says her most valuable lesson came from initially falling short and embracing the 4-H motto, “To Make the Best Better.” She is a founding leader of the Emmet County Rhythm Group, which has performed several times at the fair, and has competed in the Emmet County Fair Queen contest. She is a member of the marching, jazz, and concert bands and the varsity and jazz choirs at Estherville Lincoln Central High School. Ruth also volunteers at Good Samaritan Nursing Home, where she was named Volunteer Champion of the Year. She plans to attend Iowa Lakes Community College and to continue her involvement in 4-H as an adult assistant.
  • Blake Van Der Kamp of Prairie City credits the State Fair for expanding his horizons. Encouraged by a teacher, he entered a photograph as a high school sophomore and calls its display one of his proudest moments. Since then, Blake has served as an FFA usher and volunteered at the Cattlemen’s Beef Quarters, sheep shearing show, Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center, and Farm to Fair dinner. In addition to photography, he has exhibited in ag mechanics and poultry. In his community, Blake launched recycling and school supply drives and volunteered for a local food pantry and for SportAbility of Iowa Adapted Sports Camp. His activities at PCM High School include speech competition, FFA, art club, student government, and National Honor Society. He has also appeared in theatrical productions at his school and at Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre, one of which earned a Cloris Award. Blake plans to attend Iowa State University.

“We’re very proud of these young people and their efforts to explore new opportunities through the Iowa State Fair,” Iowa College Aid Executive Director Mark Wiederspan said. “In their essays, they all said the fair had challenged them to reach farther and higher. We’re confident that spirit will serve them well throughout their college experience.”

The scholarship is named for Branstad, Iowa’s governor from 1983 to 1999 and 2011 to 2017, and current U.S. ambassador to China. Also honored today was Hannah Koellner of Eddyville, the 2019 State Fair Queen. With the fair and the queen competition canceled this year, she will continue her reign until August 2021.





Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Nearly $600,000 will help continue community efforts to raise educational attainment

Twelve Local College Access Networks in Iowa have received a new round of funding to continue their work increasing college attainment, Iowa College Aid announced today. The $587,350 awarded for fiscal year 2021 brings the total awarded since the program’s inception in 2015 to $2,218,350.

Local College Access Networks, or LCANs, use a framework known as collective impact, bringing together leaders in education, business, government, philanthropy, and nonprofits to break down barriers to higher education. Iowa College Aid provides funding, training, and technical assistance.

“LCAN grants allow communities to identify the greatest needs of their students and employers,” Iowa College Aid Executive Director Mark Wiederspan said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. This is a model that positions students for educational and career success and communities for economic success, as well as moving Iowa toward its Future Ready Iowa goal that 70 percent of the workforce will have education beyond high school by 2025.”

One-year grants were made in July to the following LCANs:

  • Aligned Impact Muscatine (AIM), $50,000
  • Black Hawk County CAN, $50,000
  • Carroll Area CAN, $50,000
  • Dubuque CAN, $49,234
  • Latinos CAN, $59,825
  • Mason City CAN, $44,361
  • Mission Possible Franklin County, $46,775
  • OPT-in CAN for System Involved Youth, $50,000
  • Ottumwa Cradle-College-Career (C3), $49,776
  • Quad Cities CAN, $37,500
  • Queer Supports Advisory Team (QSAT), $49,878.82
  • Story County CAN, $50,000

“Our Dubuque College Access Network has brought together workforce and education to assure that systems are in place for high school students to develop postsecondary plans,” said Donna Loewen, coordinator of Dubuque’s network. “DCAN has helped to strengthen connections within the community, build relationships, and provide tangible support to help young people reach their goals.”

All 12 networks that received funding have been in existence at least a year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa College Aid suspended new applications this year.



Elizabeth Keest Sedrel
(o) 515-725-3417  (c) 515-710-1257

Iowa FAFSA Completion Campaign and GEAR UP will step up outreach this fall

Iowa College Aid will redouble efforts this fall to encourage more high school seniors to apply for college financial aid after the number dropped in 2019-20 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Until mid-March, Iowa was on track to continue an upward trend in filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After that point, the rate dipped below the previous two years, according to a new report. 

“Iowa College Aid will step up outreach in 2020-21 to help more high school seniors file the FAFSA,” said Dr. Mark Wiederspan, executive director of Iowa College Aid.  ”Knowing how much financial aid students qualify for is a key to pursuing postsecondary education, which aligns with the Future Ready Iowa goal of 70 percent of the workforce having education or training beyond high school by 2025. The impact of COVID-19 makes it even more important to ensure students get this done.”

The report also found that FAFSA filing rates are lower for students attending high-poverty schools compared to more affluent schools. However, GEAR UP Iowa, a college access program that targets low-income students, shows promise in closing that gap. FAFSA filing rates are growing much more quickly at GEAR UP schools than at non-GEAR UP schools.

As of May 31, 52 percent of Iowa’s public high school seniors had applied for financial aid for the 2020-21 school year, down from 54 percent a year earlier, according to “FAFSA Filing in Iowa: 2020,” released by Iowa College Aid. Since then, however, the percentage of high school seniors filing the FAFSA has increased to 53.88 percent, nearly closing the gap. Iowa College Aid’s FAFA Completion Campaign includes a link to FAFSA filing rates for the state and each public high school:

Students must file the FAFSA to qualify for federal aid, state-funded grants and scholarships, and many forms of aid provided by individual public and private colleges and universities.  

Download the report here or email Iowa College Aid to request a print copy.