This is the transcript for Season 2, Episode 8 (January 31st, 2019) of the “Title IV + More Podcast for Utah Counselors and Educators” from Katie Wornek, Jacob Newman, and Bryan Lee at StepUp to Higher Education Utah.

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Please be advised that the FAFSA and federal student aid are subject to change. While we ensure all the information we share in each episode is accurate at the time of the episode’s release, our statements are not insulated from future changes. If you have questions, we encourage you to call us at 801-869-5701 or email us at


Katie: Welcome and thank you for listening to StepUp Utah’s Title IV + More Podcast for counselors and educators. This podcast is brought to you by StepUp to Higher Education Utah – helping Utah’s students and parents prepare and pay for college. Find more about us at

Katie: Welcome listeners I am Katie Worneck and I am a paying for college expert with StepUp Utah.

Jacob: And I am Jacob Newman, I am also a paying for college expert with StepUp Utah. I’m gonna kick off our episode today with some news headlines. And the news we’re going to highlight this week is from the Utah System of Higher Education and this is from the article about the top 10 facts about Higher Education Utah. And we picked some of our favorite highlights and we’re going to clump these together by topic, but you can read the entire list at So, the first category we’re going to talk about is college costs. So first, Utah public universities have the fourth lowest tuition in the nation. According to new data from the college board, tuition at Utah’s public institutions is the fourth lowest in the nation. The average 2018-2019 in state tuition and fees is $6,990 compared to the average of $10,037.

Katie: I think what’s really impressive about that so 6990 the department of education just announced that there’s a 100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant Award. So, the maximum Pell Grant Award a student can qualify for is now $6,195. That’s almost 100% of the costs, and that just the average tuition. There are lower institutions than that!

Jacob: That’s pretty amazing and that’s a great consideration if students are considering going out of state. I know a lot of students are scared of the dreaded “L word”- loans. So, they should definitely consider their instate options if they are afraid of being burdened with student debt. And that actually ties into our next talking point which is Utah has the lowest student debt in the country! Utah continues to have the lowest student debt in the country, $18,850. In fact, Utah was the only state in the nation with an average student debt load under $20,000. In addition, Utah continues to have the lowest proportion of graduates with student debt. So, this is pretty amazing if we think about it. This ties into our first point of having lower cost of tuition which is really a great opportunity for students here in Utah. And we know that a lot of students have fears about student loan debt. And so this is really a great statistic to reassure students that that number sounds like a lot but is really pretty manageable if you consider the costs that go into you degree.

Katie: Yeah, and the proof is in the pudding when we see that Utah continues to have the lowest proportion of graduates who even have to take on debt in the first place. Its proof that students can graduate college debt free.

Jacob: And one way students can do that is actually in our third point, Students saved 47.7 million dollars in future tuition expenses by taking concurrent enrollment courses. The benefits of concurrent enrollment allow students can take college credit during high school. Utah System of Higher Education Institutions saw a 10.6% increase in concurrent enrollment participation in the 2017-2018 school year which saved them 48.7 million dollars in future tuition expenses. This is incredible if you ask me.

Katie: Its absolutely remarkable, there’s data out there that we actually have in one of our videos that says the average per student savings for students who take concurrent enrollment is over $2,000 so this is a significant way to pay for college.

Jacob: Especially if you consider the cost is only $5 per credit. For a 3 credit course, whether that be a math class, English class, history class or a general education class. At $15 or $20 for those 4 credit class, that’s really incredible and almost unheard of. If they were going to go to the school and pay the out of pocket cost. Its not going to be that much so they should definitely take advantage of it. Thee next category of facts about Higher Education Utah deals with college access and completion. So, this is a really amazing and stunning fact: Utah’s college population will grow to 50,000 students over the next 10 years. Utah enrollment of students is expected to grow an additional 50,000 over the next 10 years, adding nearly 4,000 additional students for just the 2018-2019 school year. 8 out of 10 Utah high school student graduates who enroll in college attend one of Utah’s colleges and universities. For a combined total of 180,000 students. This is pretty incredible if you think about it. That is a lot of students in a short period of time to be attending some of our institutions.

Katie: Absolutely, and if you think about it we only have the 8 public colleges and universities within the USHE system and BYU, the LDS Business College, Westminster, and the technical schools. So, 180,000 students divided by just a handful of colleges, that’s a significant number of students our institutions are helping out.

Jacob: And to give you some context, I believe Utah Valley University has the highest enrollment and they don’t even reach 40,000 for their enrollment. So that’s almost an entirely new institution worth of new students. So that’s pretty incredible. Alright, the second fact in this category is that the Board of Regents Top 2019 Legislative Priority is a statewide college access advising program with a permanent college access advisor in each high school by the 2021-2022 school year. To better support Utah high school students on their path to college, the board is introducing a statewide program that will put a permanent full-time near peer college access advisor in every high school in Utah. This would be the first statewide college access advising program of its kind in the nation. This statewide college access advising program is an expansion of the college of the Utah College Advising Core, or UCAC, which has been operated by the University of Utah since 2007. Under the current program 12 schools in Utah have a full-time college access advisor. The UCAC model is proven to improve college enrollment and college graduation rates. Only 49% of Utah high school graduates make it to college immediately after high school. Students in the 12 schools with the college access advisors enroll with a rate of 58%.

Katie: Wow, so a 9% jump over the average that’s awesome.

Jacob: For those meeting with a college access advisor, students are 13% more likely to enroll in college. So that’s pretty stunning considering these meetings could be relatively short.

Katie: They’re near-peer mentors so I think that makes a difference too when you hear about college being a possibility from someone who is closer in age or just graduated college it resonates a little bit more I think.

Jacob: For every meeting with a college access advisor students are 5% more likely to graduate from college. I think that speaks to the peer mentor model again is that these individuals have been in these students shoes not that longa ago and they know graduation is possible and they know that it can be a reality for these students.

Katie: Yeah, and in addition to that this is just great news for counselors in general because we know how big your case loads are and how many different tasks you are in charge of at your school. So the potential of having a college access advisor at your school to help you out with some of that work and get this one on one time with your students is so valuable.

Jacob: And we see that the Utah College Advising Core who are currently in place deal a lot with FAFSA completion and scholarships and we know that can often become overwhelming if you have 300 students and you’re trying to work with college admissions and mental health issues and we really think that this will be a great supplement if this goes through. These will be really viable resources we can’t do a lot of the work we do without the partnerships. We really value our partnership with UCAC and we really look forward to seeing what will happen with that. Finally, this third category deals with technical education. So, an estimated 1.8 billion dollars of added income by the 2017-2018 USHE Career and Technical Education Graduates will generate an additional 258 million dollars in state taxes and fees over 30 years of employment. An issue brief from USHE, the Utah System of Higher Education, looked at the return of investment the state from CTE graduates. The brief found that from the estimated 5,812 2017-2018 CTE graduates, more than 1.8 billion dollars of added income will be produced over 30 years of employment than if they had not obtained their CTE credentials. It is estimated these graduates will generate an additional 258 million dollars in state taxes and fees.

Katie: Yeah, it just goes to show you that these CTE courses and pathways are really preparing students for the workforce and real life and I think that’s excellent news for all of us, not just counselors and educators, but for anyone living or working in the state of Utah.

Jacob: And it speaks to our messaging about college is not just a 4-year degree. Any kind of education after high school whether that be a 1-year certificate, 2-year degree or more can lead to a higher earning potential for your students. So, students need to be aware that there are options for them. If they don’t feel like they’re ready for a 4-year degree or they don’t feel like that’s something they want to pursue, any kind of education after high school whether that’s a trade or technical school, is still college and will still lead to those higher earnings as well.

Katie: So this week we have a special guest and their view with Roxy Luna, and she is the Assistant Director of the statewide GEAR UP Program, welcome Roxy!

Roxy: Hi!

Katie: Can you tell us a little bit about the purpose and history of GEAR UP?

Roxy: Yes, well I will first start with GEAR UP’s stance for gaining early awareness and readiness for undergraduate programs. The GEAR UP program first started in 1999 when President Clinton was in office but in 2005, we were awarded our first grant and we are currently in our 3rd grant that goes until 2024. WE are a 7-year grant state program which, we work with students who are underrepresented who are typically first-generation students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Our overall goal for our students is we want them to successfully graduate from high school and attend post-secondary education. During the fall semester, after they graduate high school, some of the things that we do to help our GEAR UP students and their families is our campus visits, career exploration, tutoring, mentoring, one on one meetings with an advisor or counselor, college applications, financial aid, scholarships, helping them with their essays for scholarships or college applications. WE help them out with their first year in college which is a great component that we have for our program. And we also help out their parents because we have parent specialists, so we do a lot of financial aid nigh workshops, financial aid literacy, or how to navigate the K-12 system and college process.

Katie: That’s amazing, so it’s kinda customized to the student but also involves the whole family. And I love that it continues on past just graduation and matriculation it’s supporting them through that first-year transition, that’s awesome. So what schools in Utah participate in GEAR UP?

Roxy: So, since we are with the Utah state program, we work with 54 high schools and middle schools in 14 counties, we are actually in 14 school districts and we have a partnership with Utah State University, Utah State University College of Eastern, Weber State University and San Juan Foundation.

Katie: So you span the gambit of urban and rural population, very cool. So, what are some of the successes that your program has experienced?

Roxy: Well I would say that first of all I really like the parent component, I feel like we have been able to work one on one with the parents and so with that we are able to help them out with not only the high school process, we want to make sure students are graduating, they have their credits, they understand rigorous coursework available to them, and just helping them and guiding them. But we also are working with their parents and teaching them about the college process, a lot of our parents don’t know the college process or what an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is, so we help them out with the all that process. Again, our main goal is financial aid, so we want to help out families to understand that process. The second highlight that I would say is that our first year GEAR UP program, that’s one thing that I like because not only are we in the high schools and we work with students from the 9th grade all the way to 12th grade, we actually follow them their first year to college. So once they graduate, our first year mentors and coordinator reach out to them, seeing where they’re at, have they completed the financial aid process, did they do the verification if they were requested for that, and they help them out with making sure that they register for classes.  On their first day of school they make sure they knew what they had to do, and they follow up with them until their second year of college. The goal is to provide resources that are available for them so they can continue and eventually get their bachelor’s degree.

Katie: Exactly, yeah, so that whole persistence ide is just as important as getting them to college in the first place. So Roxy you’ve touched on this a little bit, but our podcast is focused on the aspects of paying for college. So, how does GEAR UP help students specifically navigate that financial aid process?

Roxy: Okay so a lot of our schools we do a lot of workshops just giving them financial aid one on one, but we also have FAFSA nights, FAFSA completion nights, we have FAFSA and just giving them an overview of what to do and what’s the next step. The other thing I like that we have is that a lot of our families can come in to the schools because we have GEAR UP advisors and counselors there to work with them on the financial aid process. It doesn’t have to be specifically FAFSA it can be scholarships. So, we have some students who are undocumented or DACA students and we provide services and help them out with that process. And we also, as I mentioned, we help out with their essays. So that’s our overall goal is because we help search for scholarships, we sit with them, we tell them the process, we help them out with their essay if needed, and we make sure they met all the requirements. Because sometimes you can miss a step and you won’t be awarded that scholarship. But that’s our goal, we want to be able to help them out with the whole process, so they don’t have to worry about any financial things once they go to college.

Katie: That’s awesome, and its good to know that, you know, scholarships are so competitive and the fact that you’re helping them become viable candidates and helping them stand out in that pool of candidates is amazing. So, what are some other opportunities that GEAR UP provides to students?

Roxy: Okay so, some of the opportunities that we have for students is the college process. We actually help them out with the college application Not only do we focus in Utah, but we also look out of state if some of the students want to attend. So, I was a west high school GEAR UP counselor for 7 years, so I had students apply for different, not just Utah, I had a student accepted to Sandford and Harvard, so we help out students in regard to what school they want to go, we help them and their family. We also, as I mentioned, we provide tutoring services for our students because we know that a lot of the classes they’re taking, some of them may need more assistance. The other great thing we have is online tutoring, where if a student has something they have to do after school and they can’t say, get assistance from a teacher or from one of the GEAR UP tutors. They can go online and there are UVU tutors there to help them out, and that’s including Saturdays. So, they have that option. As I mentioned, the mentor component I like that because we hire college students that come in and work one on one with our students and they get to mentor them with the whole high school and college process which I think is great. And we also have like I said our first-year services, I like that because these are also college students who are helping out and they know the process and they help them out with the navigating the college process and helping them with resources. We have mentors that are heling out with different schools in Utah, even if they go out of state, we have mentors there helping them out. And if they defer to go on a mission, we still follow up with them once they come back from a mission.

Katie: Wow that’s really impressive. It’s so interesting because I know that a lot of first-generation students specifically, hey under select when they’re looking a college. They mismatch themselves and they don’t necessarily go for that reach school, so the fact that you help them get into the Stanford’s or Harvard’s of the world, but also provide them the mentorship when they do move out of state is really impressive. So, when the students receive these mentoring services that help them be successful in college, I’m sure that is really impactful, do you see some of the students who participated in GEAR UP, then come back and work for you in an advisory role?

Roxy: Yes, actually, as I mentioned, I was at West High School this entire time, and I have hired 3 of my former students as mentors. Currently right now, I have an outreach mentor that works with seniors and her goal is actually to search for scholarships for students. She helps them out with FAFSA scholarships, college application, the whole senior process. It’s one thing I like about this because she was with GEAR UP from 9th grade, she graduated and now she’s in college and she’s back helping out. She’s not the first one I’ve had wo other students and it’s just great to see our GEAR UP alumni coming back and saying, “they’ve helped me out, I’m grateful and I am coming back to help out other students with the whole college process”.

Katie: So cool to see them pay it forward like that. So, our audience is counselors and educators, I am sure there are more then a few out there who are interested in helping their students reap the benefits of the GEAR UP program. How can parents and students get involved with GEAR UP?

Roxy: Okay so, since we are at schools, what the students will have to do is they can visit our website which is where they can actually get an application online. If not, they can actually go where a GEAR UP, where we’re at and a GEARUP counselor or mentor will give them an application where they can sign that. It is a long application, just to warn you, but its worth it because were there to help them out 9th grade all the way to the first year of college. Our overall goal is we want you to successful graduate from high school and attend post-secondary education. We are more of a support to the school, counselors, administrators, and teachers with whatever they need because again we are here to help out, especially with first generation students.

Katie: I know your group has helped specifically, StepUp and UHEAA in so many of our FAFSA nights and we are so appreciative of your staff they are amazing.

Roxy: Thank you

Katie: Well, thanks for joining us today Roxy!

Roxy: Thank you!

Jacob: With that I am going to transition us to our FAFSA Tip of the Week. And this deals with data projects, one best practice we have seen that has worked really well across the state and the nation is using FAFSA completion data to set specific goals. I am going to give you two examples here in the state. Pineview high school here in the south of the state set a school wide FAFSA completion goal of 25% and that sounds very lofty and that motivates counselors, educators, college access personnel, and even students if you can make students aware of this goal and say, “we are trying to raise FAFSA completion and we are trying to get this many students to complete the FAFSA”. Another example is, Ben Loment and they really set a really narrow goal. This is really interesting, they looked at some of their FAFSA completion data and trends they observed, and they said, “we’re going to set a goal of a 10% increase in FAFSA completion for English language learning students”. And that a really great goal because we know those students are also very likely to fall through the cracks when it comes to FAFSA completion and college enrollment. So, my best piece of advice I can give when it comes to utilizing data or data projects to set goals is to look at the population of your school, past FAFSA completion history, and set goals that are realistic that you will be able to achieve. These goals can be simple, any kind of goal can make a difference because when we have those smart goals, they’re realistic, achievable, timebound, it really makes a big difference in moving the needle on FAFSA completion in the state. Anything you want to add on that Katie?

Katie: Well, I just think that every counselor I meet, especially who deals with seniors, knows the importance of the FAFSA and knows the importance of helping their seniors secure the funding they need to go to college. But to echo your sentiment, if you have that mind frame its excellent but it will only go so far. When you have a specific goal that’s measurable that you and your team are identifying and trying to obtain its easier to hold yourself accountable in trying to achieve it.

Jacob: Awesome! And with that we will sign off for this week, next week we will be back with some news headlines and additional professional tips.

Katie: StepUp to Higher Education is an outreach initiative of the state of Utah that empowers 8th-12th grade students and their families to prepare for college. We believe every Utah student should pursue education after high school, whether that be a 1-year certificate, a 2-year degree, a 4-year degree, or beyond that. We provide programs and resources to encourage college prep and success, as well as training and materials for school counselors like you. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Title IV + More podcast for counselors and educators. You can find more about us, order access and outreach materials, or request a StepUp Utah event at your school at And last but not least, be sure to follow us on social media. You can find us at, also on Instagram and Twitter by searching for “@StepUpUtah”. You can also follow our Outreach Officers on social media as well. Just search for “@StepUpKatie” and “@StepUpJacob”.


Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on iTunes

Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on SoundCloud

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Please be advised that the FAFSA and federal student aid are subject to change. While we ensure all the information we share in each episode is accurate at the time of the episode’s release, our statements are not insulated from future changes. If you have questions, we encourage you to call us at 801-869-5701 or email us at