Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell has a message for recent high school graduates and their parents in Chaves County: Let us help you make life better for yourselves and other students.
The university is the only one in the state now operating what is called a partnership GEAR UP grant, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The Higher Education Department runs a statewide GEAR UP program for 12 school districts outside Chaves County.
As part of the ENMU-R program, the university financial aid office has $700,000 in scholarship funds to provide to 2017 public high school graduates in Chaves County who will enter an accredited higher education institution this fall. An equal amount will be available for 2018 graduates.
Not only do the scholarships benefit the individual students, according to ENMU-R President Dr. John Madden, but the ability to run a similar program in future years to help other Chaves County students could depend on how many area public high school students enter college.
“This is phenomenal. This is great,” said ENMU-R President Dr. John Madden about the scholarships. “We are concerned about who doesn’t know what is going on. What parent from one of the five high schools doesn’t know about this opportunity?”
The maximum scholarship that can be given would be $1,000 a semester, but how many students get funded and for how long depends on the number applying and meeting the eligibility criteria.
If all 600 public high school graduates from eligible schools apply, then funding would be available for about one semester for all applicants. The amount of funds available to individuals can vary depending on whether students enroll full time to receive the top awards of $1,000 or for the minimum of three credit hours, which would mean $250 a semester in funding.
“It is first-come, first-serve. In the class of 2011, we didn’t get through the spring semester,” said Madden, explaining that many students applied that year. “The class of 2012, we did. I don’t know how you predict that ahead of time. … It has to do with college-going rates.”
The criteria for eligibility is that students must be a 2017 graduate of Roswell High, Goddard High, Dexter High School, Lake Arthur High School or Hagerman High School. (Some University High School students are eligible if they participated in GEAR UP programs while in middle school.) Students also must be able to provide official high school transcripts or a GED certificate, official identification materials and a class schedule or billing statement from an accredited degree-granting institution. The application deadline of July 1 is fast approaching for those going to college in the fall or spring.
So far, the university has received 56 applications and has awarded about 40 scholarships. The low numbers so far could be due in part to the fact that official high school transcripts are just becoming available now, according to Madden and financial aid officer and GEAR UP scholarship coordinator Lara De La Hoya.
But they both said that they want to see many more applying and will be reaching out to parents and students through mailings, phone calls and events in future months.
“I am a first-generation college student,” said Madden, “so I get it. You don’t necessarily know what to do. You can be a little anxious about that. There is a little trepidation, maybe a little fear. … But, that is the point of the program, to show them, ‘You can do this.’”
Madden said he sees no downside to the scholarships and says the program benefits students, parents, schools and the community. Even if students are unsure if they want to get a college degree, they can work and go to school part time, he said.
While Madden and university staff hope students select ENMU-R, they can choose any accredited degree-granting higher education institution. Past recipients have gone to schools nationwide, Madden said.
ENMU-R has received the seven-year grant twice. It received the first one in 2005 and a renewal in 2011, when the total award was $8,284,800 to fund the entire program over seven years. In addition to scholarships, the program provides tutoring, mentoring, on-site academic counseling, college and career counseling, college visits, talks from former scholarship recipients and many other components.
Program Director Mike Gomez said that ENMU-R expects to hear by August whether it will receive the grant for the next seven years. The university has requested about $1. 4 million in scholarship funds, which would go to 2023 and 2024 graduates. That group of about 1,814 students would be receiving grants of up to $800 a semester.
“The bottom line is that we were renewed because our college-going rates were so high,” said Madden. “We were the only college in the state of New Mexico to get the grant renewed.”
In its 2005 grant application, ENMU-R said it would boost college attendance rates from about 33 percent to 50 percent. Instead, they went up to 75 percent.
“It was so amazing that I had the government double-check our numbers. I thought we had gotten something wrong,” Madden said. “No, it wasn’t wrong. It was incredible. That is the power of getting to middle school students and preaching to them that college is your future. Your future is going to college. They’ve heard that for six years now and it works. That is the great thing, it works.”
Madden added that he has told graduating seniors to think not only about themselves but future classes.
“In our meetings … I told them, ‘If the class of 2011 hadn’t done what they did, you wouldn’t be getting this. This is a classic paying-forward situation. … If you don’t go to college, then this wonderful opportunity will end with you. “
He said university staff is both excited and anxious, eager for students and parents to take them up on the offer of what could be for some a free year of college.
“I don’t know what the conversation is around the kitchen table,” said Madden. “‘I have senior-itis. I don’t want to work. I don’t want to go to school.’ Well, they have to do something. This is a phenomenal opportunity. Come (to college) and experiment. Try things out.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.