For recent high school graduates, returning to school in the fall means beginning a two- or four-year program of study at a community college or university.

Sometimes the transition from high school to college can be challenging, but help is available, according to the college outreach specialists who recently visited the Van Kirk Career Academy campus of the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC).

Jonathan Cox and Richard Webb represented the outreach program of the University of Northern Iowa at Cedar Falls, and their Panther pride was plain in the purple pavilion they erected on the lawn of the DMACC satellite campus in Perry and in the free cheeseburgers, chips and sodas they gave away to interested students and onlookers.

The event was held to coincide with fall orientation for high school students taking dual-credit courses at both their high schools and at DMACC. "This is all about access to education," said Cox, a member of the UNI College of Education. Webb, from the business school, added, "Retention, matriculation and admission are the goals of our program."

Also present for the outreach event was Cara Graziano, a training specialist with GEAR UP Iowa, a program administered by Iowa College Aid, a state agency devoted to promoting increased high school graduation rates in districts with the lowest-income student populations, of which Perry is one of 18 such districts statewide. GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

Graziano said GEAR UP Iowa is at the end of its seven-year program, and the outcomes—in terms of keeping students in high school until they graduate and then seeking college admission—have been highly successful in Perry, Panora, Adel-DeSoto-Minburn and Woodward-Granger districts. GEAR UP Iowa tracked students’ progress from seventh grade through their senior year and then made a special effort, in conjunction with the schools, to encourage students to take the American College Test (ACT) admissions test. In Perry 148 students successfully graduated and took the ACT, Graziano said.

The program also offers students attending a two- or four-year college $2,600 each year for up to four years if they stay in school and make progress toward a degree. Graziano said interested students should contact her at 877-272-4456.

Hy-Vee provided the refreshments at a reduced cost to the outreach event, which attracted about 75 inquirers.