Pulaski Council pledges $50,000 to ACCE program at NRCC

Pulaski Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to pledge $50,000 toward Pulaski County’s participation in the ACCE (Access to Community College Education) program at New River Community College.

Council’s pledge comes on the heels of a recent announcement by the Randolph House Foundation that it is donating $25,000 to ACCE.

Council’s vote came after hearing a presentation on the program from Angie Covey, Executive Director of the New River Community College Educational Foundation.  She was accompanied by Erika Tolbert of the Foundation and NRCC President Pat Huber.

According to Covey, ACCE is an economic development public / private partnership that makes community college available debt-free to high school, home-schooled and private school graduates who reside in Floyd, Giles and Montgomery Counties as well as the City of Radford.

Covey said the program started in the New River Valley with Giles County, which is starting its third year in the program.

“What the program does is it allows us to go into the high school – we went into Giles High School and Narrows High School – and we’ve been able to say to these high school seniors that every single student graduating from these two high schools has access to NRCC debt-free for two years,” Covey explained.

“When we talk about the program to folks like you (council), we’re talking about economic development,” she said. “This program is about providing a trained workforce. When an industry is looking to come to a new area, or you’re trying to keep your existing industry, the first thing they talk about is having that trained workforce. If you can say you provide occupational, technical – your welding, your instrumentation, your machining, your nursing, your automotive – you provide that kind of training to every single one of your high school graduates, it carries weight when you talk about having a trained workforce.”

To be eligible for the program, students must have at least a 2.5 grade point average and must maintain that GPA while in the program.

“When we started the program two years ago we didn’t want the GPA too high because we wanted to make sure we could get our arms around the students who really didn’t like high school or didn’t do that well in high school,” Covey said. “We felt like if we could get them to New River and they could start a program that excited them like instrumentation, welding or machining, often we’ll see a switch that flips with these young people.  You get them into a program they enjoy and they start to excel,” Covey said.

“Also we’re finding this is creating a culture in high school of young people caring about their GPA,” she added.

Students must also complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

“If there is any federal funding we want to make sure we use that funding first, then use ACCE funds to close the gap between what financial aid covers and what the student’s total tuition cost is going to be,” she added.

Students are required to perform 80 hours of community service work in their community in order to receive funds from the program.

Students in Giles County, Covey said, have been working around their high schools, getting them ready for the school year.  They’ve also been working at the animal shelter.  “Giles County owns its own golf course, so they’re doing work there.  A variety of different things,” Covey said.

Covey noted that Radford is in its first year in the program and students are divided between the four schools in the city, and their community service is to work to help get the schools ready to open for the school year.

“We feel like we’re creating a culture among students who understand community service and accountability,” she said.   “If they are unsuccessful in a course, they have to pay the ACCE money back to the program. They understand that and agree to it.”

In Floyd County, funding for the program came from a Tobacco Commission grant.  In Radford, city council put up half the funds and one donor made up the rest. In Montgomery County, the board of supervisors donated $250,000 and the two towns (Blacksburg and Christiansburg) gave $25,000 each.

Covey said she was invited by Pulaski County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Fleenor to present the program to the Randolph House board.

“You have 10 or 12 people on that board who have retired in the community, who have worked here and are passionate about education and Pulaski County. They said, ‘why aren’t we (Pulaski County) doing this,’” Covey said.

“We’ve put out a challenge that hopefully we can raise the additional funding.  The anticipated cost for Pulaski County for year one is $200,000 and year two is $400,000.”

Vice Mayor Greg East said he believes ACCE to be a community effort.

“I realize there are circumstances regarding the county and the town not participating yet, but – especially since New River is in Pulaski County – I’m glad you have been able to come and present,” East said.

With that, East offered a motion that the town partner with NRCC on the ACCE program in the amount of $50,000 with funding to be allocated from unassigned reserves. Councilman Lane Penn seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

“Wow,” exclaimed Covey following the vote.

“Thank you for what you’re doing for the students,” Huber added. “Had it not been for Wytheville Community College, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Pulaski Mayor Nick Glenn echoed what Councilman Jamie Radcliffe had said earlier.  “We know we have a lot of great kids here in the town, county and the region. And they deserve the help, and community college is the place to do it. I went to (Virginia) Tech and it was four years wasted. I think the community college would have been a lot better.”

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot