More than 20,000 North County high school students got a better chance to succeed in college over the past seven years thanks to a federal grant to Palomar College that puts tax dollars back into the educational system.

The grant-funded program, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is intended to provide services to students beginning when they are in middle school and to follow them throughout their time in high school. The services included academic planning and career counseling, college visits and shadowing college students, mentoring, and academic enrichment.

In 2023, the final year of the grant, all but 44 of the 1,369 students who were part of the program were attending a college or university. Palomar College is now serving 352 of those students.

The students who participated in the program gave it high praise. Joshua Ramirez Mendez, who is attending Palomar College, said GEAR UP helped him register for college. “When it came time to register for class or when I had a question, GEAR UP was always there to help me out,” he said.

Diana Lopez said she knew she wanted to major in nursing when she went to college but didn’t know what steps to take. She said a field trip to Palomar College sponsored by GEAR UP led her to decide to attend there.

“GEAR UP also hosted welcome days before school started and that helped me as well with getting used to the campus and knowing where all the resource buildings were,” she said. “This overall helped with preparing me for the start of college.”

Diana Rojas said she received lots of support through GEAR UP. “If someone asks me about this program, I will say that it is a team that helps you resolve the doubts you have, helps improve your ability to study, and also helps you with any questions you have,” she said.

Maria Rodas is enrolled in the automotive technology program at Palomar College and hopes to become a master mechanic. She said the GEAR UP program “is almost like a little family.”