EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has been awarded a $294,341 “College Ready” grant from Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp. (Great Lakes) to expand the number of area students served by Blugold Beginnings, a program designed to give area youth access to higher education through precollege outreach.

Blugold Beginnings pairs UW-Eau Claire student mentors with youth in area schools. The program aims to inform and inspire underrepresented students about higher education and how it is attainable for them, said Lissa Martinez Greer, Blugold Beginnings program director.

The grant from Great Lakes will enable Blugold Beginnings to serve an additional 180 sixth- through 12th-grade students from Eau Claire and Altoona, Greer said. The grant funding will support:

  • two additional full-time staff and 50 additional UW-Eau Claire student mentors to support Blugold Beginnings middle- and high-school programming, including after-school programming; and
  • busing transportation home for students who participate in Blugold Beginnings after-school programming, which is intended to increase the program’s accessibility.

During the 2012-13 academic year, Blugold Beginnings served a total of 350 Eau Claire and Altoona students in grades five through 12, and due to the Great Lakes grant 2013-14 programming will serve 530 students, Greer said.

“Combined with the wonderful school partnerships we already have in place to make all students college and career ready, this Great Lakes grant will really make a difference in our community,” Greer said. “The additional staff support and busing provided to students who stay after school with their mentors will allow the Blugold Beginnings program to serve even more students.”

Surveys have indicated that middle school Blugold Beginnings participants’ desired level of post-high school education and understanding of the steps needed to get into post-secondary programs increased significantly from the start of a school year to the middle of the same academic year, Greer said.

Likewise, surveys of high school Blugold Beginnings participants have shown student improvement in financial literacy, knowledge of prerequisites needed to enter higher education and knowledge of the post-secondary application process from a beginning-of-the-year survey to a midyear survey, Greer said.

“This grant helps UW-Eau Claire move one step closer to achieving a comprehensive precollege access program in our region and will significantly increase the capacity of Blugold Beginnings to prepare youth of our community for post-secondary success,” said Jodi Thesing-Ritter, UW-Eau Claire associate dean of students and Blugold Beginnings founder.

UW-Eau Claire’s Blugold Beginnings program was one of 34 to receive Great Lakes “College Ready” grants.

“‘College Ready’ grants give Great Lakes the opportunity to partner with organizations actively preparing more students to enroll and succeed in college-level courses,” said Richard D. George, Great Lakes’ president and chief executive officer. “The time, attention, tutoring and skill-building activities that these programs provide, through qualified educators and trained tutors, give students expanded options for college and increased opportunities for lifelong success.”

Knowing that education has the power to change lives for the better, Great Lakes and its affiliates help millions of students pay for college and repay their student loans. Through community investments, Great Lakes leads initiatives and funds programs that help students from traditionally underserved backgrounds start and complete a two- or four-year degree or other credential. For additional information, visit mygreatlakes.org/community.