Supervisors approve $100,000 for ACCE Program participation

It appears Pulaski County will participate in New River Community College’s ACCE program after all.

At their budget work session Monday night, the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution to participate in the Access to Community College Education program through a $100,000 appropriation to the School Board.

In the resolution, the supervisors identified the School Board as the governing body best suited for the development, management and oversight of the ACCE program.

“The School Board currently works closely with NRCC, the college’s Career Coaches and their faculty and staff,” the resolution states.

“The School Board is in a much better position to assist students with understanding and accessing the ACCE program, as well as utilizing the School Board’s existing programs such as dual enrollment and other creative means to help manage the cost of the program and possible increases in continuation costs.”

“This makes a community college education in essence a non-cost proposition to our graduating seniors,” exclaimed County Administrator Jonathan Sweet following the vote of the supervisors.

“An important component of ACCE is a private match of equal amount,” added Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready.

“We certainly have heard a lot of folks say that they would like to support ACCE. Now we have the program, it will be up to the private sector to provide the match to make the ACCE program work,” McCready added.

Currently, the ACCE program is in place in Giles, Floyd and Montgomery counties and Radford City.

According to the ACCE page on the NRCC website, ACCE is an economic development public/private partnership that makes college debt-free to high school and home-schooled graduates by funding NRCC tuition for two years.

Through ACCE, students will graduate from NRCC prepared to join the workforce or transfer to a four-year university without college debt.

High school seniors in the participating localities must first complete their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form, graduate high school with a minimum 2.5 GPA, and perform 80 hours of community service each year.

All Federal Financial Aid money received by a student is first applied toward tuition, with ACCE money closing any funding gaps for tuition up to 15 credits. Any expenses beyond 15 credits, including textbooks, are the responsibility of the student.

Participation in the ACCE program has been a source of controversy for well over a year.

After NRCC officials began their campaign to expand the program into Pulaski County, the Board of Supervisors failed to make a commitment, expressing support instead for a state-funded program called AIME – Access to Industrial and Manufacturing Education, due to the number of industrial and manufacturing jobs needing to be filled in the county.

Proponents of ACCE argued that AIME assists only students in manufacturing, while ACCE assists students in any degree or certificate program at NRCC that meets federal financial aid requirements.

While Pulaski County initially held off on the program, the Town of Pulaski bought in right away pledging $50,000 toward ACCE.  The Randolph House Foundation committed $25,000 in the Fall of 2017, and another $25,000 last year.

According to Angie Covey, Executive Director of the NRCC Educational Foundation, the anticipated cost for ACCE in Pulaski County is approximately $200,000 year one.  Year two the cost is expected to double because it will cover the second year of tuition for the class of 2020 and the first year of tuition for the class of 2021.    NRCC currently has matching funds to support ACCE in Pulaski County for year one, she said.

Pulaski Town Manager Shawn Utt said council will likely discuss its earlier pledge to ACCE during its May work session.

“The appropriation from the Town was from FY18, so they would need to re-appropriate it,” Utt said Wednesday, noting that anything that isn’t spent in a fiscal year goes back into General Fund reserves, which is where the town’s ACCE funding came from originally.

“NRCC is excited that we may see ACCE funded in Pulaski County beginning in 2020,” said Covey.  “At this time, we are looking forward to hearing more from the Board of Supervisors about the next steps the County will take in implementing the ACCE program.  This could be an outstanding opportunity for Pulaski County to show its commitment to education while strengthening workforce and economic development.”

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot

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