Upward Bound grant to change lives

Change is coming to a couple of communities in north Georgia

It is change in the form of an academic lifeline, for students who previously could only imagine an education beyond high school. In addition to creating opportunity for students, area leaders believe it will strengthen the community’s workforce and economy.

The University of North Georgia has been awarded a total of $2.6 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Education’s Upward Bound Program to help promising low-income high school students in Hall and Gilmer counties prepare for college.

“The University of North Georgia began a Regional Education and Economic Development – REED – initiative a couple of years ago to increase educational attainment and help strengthen our community and regional economies,” UNG President Bonita Jacobs said. “In alignment with our goals, the Upward Bound program will open doors to college and career opportunities by providing a path to high school graduation and college access for first-generation students.”

Through Upward Bound, UNG will provide mentoring, parent engagement, state assessment preparation, career exploration, cultural experiences, and college visits to each high school participant of the program.

“We are excited to strengthen our partnership with the University of North Georgia’s offer of support and post-secondary opportunity for some of our students,” said Superintendent of Gilmer County Charter Schools Shanna Wilkes. “This grant will dramatically alter the future for some of our underserved students by providing needed additional services to help eligible students obtain a high school diploma and a college degree, and this will help break the cycle of poverty for deserving students in our district.”

“This grant will dramatically alter the future for some of our under-served students by providing needed additional services to help eligible students obtain a high school diploma and a college degree, and this will help break the cycle of poverty for deserving students in our district.”
-Shanna Wilkes
Superintendent of Gilmer County Charter Schools

Upward Bound is a federally funded program designed to provide academic, cultural and social experiences for eligible students, enabling them to develop the skills, attitudes and motivation necessary to enter and succeed in college.

One hundred and twenty students from Gilmer County High School in Ellijay, Georgia, and Johnson High School in Gainesville, Georgia, will annually receive tutoring, counseling and advising to help them succeed academically.


“This funding will allow UNG to better serve students from economically disadvantaged households and increase their access to post-secondary education,” said Sheila Caldwell, director for UNG’s Complete College Georgia program and primary lead of the grant for Johnson High. “By serving these very high-need schools, we will be able to use our resources strategically and intensely to prepare these students for college success.

Blue Ridge Enrollment

”By 2025, more than 60 percent of Georgia jobs will require some college education, whether an associate degree or bachelor’s degree. Today, only 45 percent of the state’s young adults qualify. Individuals who attain higher levels of education typically have greater lifetime earnings potential, too. According to a 2011 report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, those who hold a bachelor’s degree earn 31 percent more than those with an associate degree and 84 percent more than those with just a high school diploma.

UNG offers a number of pathways for high school and incoming freshmen students, including dual enrollment and programs in high-demand area career opportunities for degree seekers. Courses are also available for adult learners either beginning their college career or returning to finish a degree, and a range of continuing and professional education programs for advancement in a career or personal growth.

UNG chose to collaborate with the selected high schools for this program to build upon its existing partnerships with both.

At UNG’s Blue Ridge Campus, students from Gilmer and the surrounding communities may participate in a signature program called the Blue Ridge Scholars, which groups first-time freshmen as a cohort and provides integrated instruction and support.


“This partnership comes at a great time, because the Blue Ridge Campus is growing by leaps and bounds,” UNG Blue Ridge Campus Director Sandy Ott said.

In its first year in 2015, the college campus welcomed 20 students. The next year, 114 students enrolled. This year, 152 students are enrolled, equaling a 33 percent increase. The growth from 2015 to 2016 marked a 539 percent increase.

The Blue Ridge Campus houses a unique learning opportunity that allows new students who are selected as Blue Ridge Scholars to take all their classes together, participate in leadership development opportunities and give back to the community.  This program was designed to increase the success rate of UNG students, which has been the outcome of similar nationally recognized models of higher education. The program is going strong as it enters its second year.

UNG’s Gainesville Campus is a supporting partner of the Jobs for Georgia Graduates program, and is working with Johnson High as one of the state’s pilot schools. UNG provides classroom instruction and leadership development to help reduce the dropout rate among at-risk youth.

“Upward Bound is a wonderful collaboration between UNG and the school systems,” Ott said. “The resources and opportunities the Upward Bound grant provides will give these students a chance to see how a college campus culture can influence their lives.”

Gilmer County High School Counselor Ginger Chastain is just one of the people in the Gilmer County schools who are working closely with UNG’s Blue Ridge Campus to help students in the area succeed academically.