REACHing Out to Georgia Students: Georgia’s Public-Private Needs-Based Scholarship
March 31, 2015
By Paige Oliver
Governor Nathan Deal launched Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen (REACH) in February 2012 as Georgia’s first public-private, needs-based mentorship and scholarship program. REACH is an integral tenet of the Complete College Georgia initiative which strives to improve college access and completion in Georgia. The REACH Georgia program is designed to encourage low-income, academically promising middle and high school students to persist in their educational pursuits. Students participating in REACH Georgia are provided with the academic, social, and financial support needed to graduate from high school, access college, and achieve post-secondary success. This education update outlines the program’s scholar qualification process, mentoring, funding, program growth, and early outcomes.
Student Requirements and Qualification Process
At the beginning of the process, local teachers and school counselors in participating districts select qualified 7th grade students to apply for the REACH program. In order to qualify, a student must:
- attend school in a participating school system;
- meet citizenship and residency requirements;
- qualify for the Free or Reduced Price Lunch program (FRL);
- demonstrate academic promise; and
- have no criminal or drug-related convictions.
In general, the REACH program strives to focus not on students with “A” or “B” averages, but rather on “C” students who require the program’s support to grow academically and socially. Qualified students must fill out an application that resembles a university application, in preparation for the student’s post-secondary educational experience. The application requires the student to obtain parental permission, two academic references, and a reference from a local community member. A selection committee of local non-educators from the district’s community reviews the applications, interviews students, and selects the REACH Scholars.
After being selected to participate in REACH, students sign a contract committing to:
- Maintain strong grades;
- Cumulative GPA 2.5 or better in core courses in middle and high school.
- a minimum 2.0 GPA and Satisfactory Academic Progress in college.
- Maintain good school attendance and behavior;
- Remain drug- and alcohol-free;
- Meet with their REACH mentor twice a month and attend REACH program activities regularly;
- Develop educational and career plans; and
- Graduate high school.
REACH Scholars’ parents also sign a contract committing to support the Scholar with the requirements of the program. Parents also agree to attend REACH activities and events throughout the year.
Mentoring is a key component of the REACH program. Meeting with students twice a month, local mentors help REACH Scholars build academic skills, plan for college and their careers, and understand the link between their studies and future aspirations. As students develop a relationship with their mentors, they receive additional encouragement to meet high academic and career standards.
Mentors are chosen by local school districts, often selected through volunteer programs, such as Communities in Schools. In other situations, school districts have established programs within their districts and recruit volunteer mentors from the community.
Scholarship Specifications and University Partners
If students fulfill the terms of the REACH contract, they receive a scholarship of up to $10,000—$2,500 each year for up to four years—to be used at a HOPE eligible Georgia two- or four-year college. Many participating university partners have committed to match or double-match REACH scholarships. A list of the participating university partners can be found here.
The Georgia Student Finance Authority provides funding for the cost of administering the program. Corporate sponsors, individuals, and other private sources provide funds for scholarships. Additionally, in the 2014 legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly approved $2 million in the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget to support scholarships. One-hundred percent of these funds support REACH scholarships. A list of program sponsors can be found below.
To date, the program has received $2 million in state funds and $1,150,000 from private state-wide sponsors for scholarships (listed below). REACH pays for the total cost of the first cohort of 8th grade REACH Scholars in each participating school district. In the second year of participation (second cohort of 8th grade REACH Scholars) and each year thereafter, the local school districts must also raise funds to support a portion of the $10,000 scholarship for each new REACH Scholar. To date, local communities have collectively raised or have committed to raise over $340,000 to support a portion of REACH scholarships in their districts. REACH only accepts new Scholars once it has procured the necessary funds for that student’s full scholarship.
Private Sponsors as of March 31, 2015
Source: REACH Staff
During its two-year pilot phase beginning in 2012-2013, the REACH program served five school systems. In the 2014-2015 school year, REACH chose an additional 18 school systems to apply to participate. For the 2015-2016 school year, REACH opened the application to all interested school districts to apply to participate in the program. An additional 19 school systems were selected to participate in the 2015-2016 school year, for a total of 42 school systems participating in REACH statewide. The map below highlights the participating districts.
Since the 2011-2012 school year, 154 REACH Scholars have been selected. The earliest cohort will graduate high school in 2016-2017. To date, 100% of REACH Scholars have upheld the terms of their contract and are on-track to graduate high school. These Scholars are taking on leadership positions and extra-curricular activities in their schools. Several Scholars have spoken to their local Rotary Club. From surveys in the past three years, Scholars are reporting new interest in exploring colleges and future careers. For example, a REACH Scholar recently stated, “It [REACH] makes me look forward to the future knowing that now I’m more able to attend the school I want and I might even get the job I dream of.”
During the 2015-2016 school year, the program expects previously participating school districts to select around 105 REACH Scholars and new school districts to select 79 Scholars.
The REACH program is one of the steps Georgia is taking to increase the number of college graduates. Through this program, economically disadvantaged students are paired with local mentors to ensure secondary and postsecondary success. They also receive up to $10,000 to attend a HOPE-eligible Georgia two- or four-year college in addition to any other scholarship or grant the Scholars receive. The first three years of the program have produced promising results for the REACH Scholars, and as the program expands to more school districts, more students will have opportunities across the state.
More information about the REACH Georgia program can be found on the program website. Interested parties may also contact:
Brad Bryant, Executive Director
Joy Hawkins, Vice President of REACH
 Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) is a standard used to measure a student’s successful completion of coursework toward a degree. It is usually determined by comparing a student’s GPA with the pace at which the student is completing the required coursework. SAP standards vary by institution.
 Information provided by REACH staff
 Based on the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Job Tax Credit county designations, districts must raise a between $1,500 and $5,000 for each REACH scholar.
 Information provided by REACH staff
 These districts were chosen to maximize demographic and urban/rural diversity.
 Information provided by REACH staff.