Monday, March 10, 2008

Expanding Access

My last post was titled engagment is key to positive change. If engagement is is key to making change happen, student access is key to why change is needed. It is a great feeling to be considering changes while the College is in a position of strength. We can be more thoughtful and deliberate about how we need to change when we're not facing massive budget cuts or severe enrollment declines. Although budgets can always be better, ours is generally stable and enrollment has been up slightly this year over last. This allows us to spend time thinking about increasing our ability to serve students better as well as minimizing barriers for students to access our programs and services.

Despite our relatively low tuition, far too many students face financial barriers that limit their ability to attend college. For students with severe financial need, they most often qualify for the maximum award in the state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and Federal Pell grants, usually covering the cost of tuition and many ancillary expenses. Access to a high quality MVCC education appears to be open and available for those who have little and for those who have much. For too many students, family income is above the state and federal financial aid thresholds, as these students (40% of MVCC students) do not qualify for the maximum grants. However, the financial aid thresholds are set around $36,000 for household income - beyond that the assumption is that individuals should be able to afford college tuition and associated fees, texts, and living expenses. If students are unable to make that happen somehow, the next best answer is going into debt and taking out student loans.

One very positive change already underway is the creation of the ACCESS Fund. The MVCC Foundation has created a new opportunity for MVCC students who fall into this middle ground. The ACCESS Fund is intended to make up as much of the difference as possible between grants from the State and Federal governments and the actual cost of attending MVCC.

Gifts to the Access Fund at the MVCC Foundation make an immediate impact for those students who qualify. Unfortunately, there is currently far more need than resources available for distribution. The faculty and staff of MVCC have seen first hand the successes of so many students, and they want to see the opportunities continue for more, especially those students who advance their educations, begin jobs or professions here in the area, and contribute to the overall well-being of the community. MVCC faculty and staff have recognized the importance of this fund and have responded generously with their gifts and pledges - as of last week, 71 faculty and staff (along with 100% of the Board of Trustees, Foundation Board and Executive Committee members) have raised $18,575. If we are able to get that figure over $20,000, we will be able to provide more than 80 students with grants of $250 or more. This represents a 50% increase over last year in both participation and dollars raised from our annual faculty and staff internal gifts campaign. Thank you to everyone who has contributed thus far.

Sometimes when we think about changes that will impact us in our work at the College, it's also important to reflect on the reason we do what we do every day - keeping our programs and services as accessible as possible to help others develop their potential through education. If you have any comments or questions about the ACCESS Fund, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.