GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a federally funded college access program designed to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education immediately following high school. The GEAR UP Appalachian Partnership grant serves approximately 15,000 students from 11 school districts in Western North Carolina counties. 

GEAR UP at Appalachian State University wanted to provide each of the counties they serve with clear and usable information showing how their students were meeting college and career readiness benchmarks at key milestones between middle school and college. They also wanted each county to learn how their students were performing as compared to other students within their Prosperity Zone and the state of North Carolina. 

They asked Carolina Demography to determine which data sources were needed, perform an analysis on that data, and then create a series of one pagers for each county. 


We started by having a discussion with GEAR UP about their clients’ needs. 

We don’t know what we don’t know,” said M. Corrine Smith, the Senior Associate Director of GEAR UP “And that’s where your consultation was really helpful – to take what you know and what we know and have that back and forth brainstorming discussion.”  

From the brainstorming discussion, we synthesized data from a wide set of sources. We provided the raw material to GEAR UP, and then packaged it to be accessible and understandable for their stakeholder counties. The process was both transparent and collaborative: GEAR UP and Carolina Demography worked hand-in-hand to create the end product. 

“The real value of Carolina Demography is that you don’t operate as a black box,” said Smith. “You have a lot of expertise in the education space and there was a huge value-add by having that expertise at the table.”  


We provided GEAR UP’s priority counties with a one-pager detailing:

  • The percentage of students earning college and career ready scores on 8th grade EOG exams, broken down by gender and demographics
  • The percentage of 11th grade students meeting college-readiness benchmarks in English, Math, Reading and Science
  • The percentage of students meeting UNC’s minimum composite score on the ACT
  • AP and SAT participation for each county
  • Post-graduate intentions
  • Career readiness metrics for students in each county

In addition, each county was presented with accessible documentation detailing each benchmark at each key milestone between middle school and college, and how GEAR UP districts were performing at each stage compared to other students in the state of North Carolina.

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