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Delta State awarded $15 million federal college-readiness grant to support local middle school students through college

Photo courtesy of Delta State University

A $15 million college-readiness grant awarded to Delta State University by the U.S. Department of Education will assist more than 2,700 Mississippi Delta students in the sixth and seventh grades and on through college.

The Mississippi Delta GEAR UP program is a partnership among nine local school districts, Delta State, Mississippi Delta Community College, the Foundation for the Mid-South, the Woodward Hines Education Foundation, the Casey Family Programs, Higher Purpose Co., NSPARK, Village of Wisdom, CARES, Review, and Vela Institute.

The federally funded, seven-year initiative will serve students in Cleveland, Greenville, Greenwood, Hollandale, Humphrey, Leland, North Bolivar, Western Line and Yazoo County School Districts, providing them with support services, including tutoring, academic counseling, dual-enrollment opportunities, career development, financial literacy and professional development.

Delta State’s GEAR UP grant was one of only 27 programs funded nationally. The total award amount is $15,271,200.

“I am thrilled that Delta State University will be receiving this funding to support students in our school system and in higher education for years to come. This assistance will make a significant impact on the Mississippi Delta,” said Delta State President William N. LaForge.

“This grant will expand collaboration among K-12, community organizations, and higher education institutions. It will also provide support to schools through professional development opportunities and student services, significantly increasing the number of Delta students prepared to enter and succeed in college.”

Congressman Bennie Thompson said the grant has the potential to be transformative for the Delta community.

“I know these funds will greatly benefit local school districts and the Delta State University community,” said Thompson. “The components of this grant are designed to increase student accessibility to higher education while reaffirming them with an opportunity to succeed. Hopefully, it will do just that.”

Heather Kovarcik Miller, director of the Office of Institutional Grants at Delta State, is equally excited about the GEAR UP grant.

“This program will have a profound impact on the lives of our area children; my office, Delta State, and the rest of the partners are here to work together to ensure that the program will be successful over the next seven years.”

According to Dr. Billy C. Moore, dean of the College of Business and Aviation at Delta State, the grant is an exciting opportunity to enhance the partnerships between participating school districts and community organizations to ensure the success of local students.

“Each of our partners brings a willingness and commitment to work strategically and relentlessly to ensure our students are prepared to succeed in college. It is a privilege to work with our team and partners and to observe their hard work in securing funding and implementing this meaningful program,” said Moore.

Dr. Ivye Allen, president of the Foundation for the Mid South, said the organization is pleased to serve as a partner in this initiative.

“We are excited to partner with Delta State University and other partners on this GEAR UP opportunity,” said Allen. “It is our goal and ongoing work to ensure that students throughout Mississippi, especially Delta communities, education outcomes place them in competitive positions throughout the state as well as the nation.  We know that the children in this region can be anything they want to be, and our goal is to be one of the contributors making that happen.”

An acronym for “Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs,” GEAR UP is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

The program offers customized college, career and financial aid advising, tutoring, job skills training, college and educational field trips, workshops on financial aid and more.

Students in the classes of 2027 and 2028 who are enrolled at participating school districts will make up the program’s “cohort” groups and will receive GEAR UP services beginning in their sixth and seventh-grade year through their first year of college.

To learn more about GEAR UP, visit

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