HELENA, Mont. — A $650,000 grant will help coordinate efforts to guide Montana high school students to graduate while developing career interests and preparing for college or an apprenticeship, state officials announced Monday.

The four-year grant from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation will create the iGraduate Montana program, the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education said.

The grant money will help the commissioner’s office along with the Office of Public Instruction, high schools and the Department of Labor and Industry coordinate the use of $36.4 million in federal grants over the next four years.

The grants include GEAR UP money that provide support to low-income students in graduating from high school and identifying potential careers and how best to prepare for those careers, Deputy Commissioner John Cech said. GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, also allows all Montana high school juniors to take the ACT for free and from Nov. 6-10 will waive the application fee for the state’s public institutions of higher education.

Montana Career Pathways works with students to think about their career interests; to take classes that align with those interests, including some that offer both high school and college credit; and start planning for college or an apprenticeship in trades programs or new opportunities such as allied health, nursing, information technology, computer programming and accounting.

The Washington Foundation grant money will be used to create a steering committee to ensure the grant programs work together, Cech said.

“Each of these grants are doing amazing things right now. But I think they can do even more if we harness and leverage the power,” he said.

Over the next 10 years, nearly a quarter of Montana’s workforce will be retiring, Cech noted.

“It’s absolutely critical that we try to connect with as many high school students as possible to help them understand that first they need to graduate from high school, but secondly help them understand what opportunities are available in Montana for them in the future … and how those opportunities can align with their interests and their abilities,” he said.