Monday, May 2, 2011

Breaking Barriers

As I described in my last post, the Challenge and Opportunity Campaign has four major initiatives that serve as a call to action in helping the MVCC Foundation provide traction our students and community need to secure long-term success. While the Creating Opportunity initiative described in the last post provides more traditional support through scholarships, the Breaking Barriers initiative provides support for nontraditional needs that are difficult to address any other way – needs that are growing more complex in scope and intensity with each passing semester. Accessibility is a key element in our Statement of Purpose. We attract a very diverse student population – one of our most important strengths.

From providing the first step after high school to honor students; offering the important step in upgrading skills to returning adults, immigrants and refugees; helping those who have been incarcerated re-imagine their lives… students from all walks of life enroll in our classes each semester. More recently however, we are better understanding some of the most significant barriers MVCC students encounter. Many receive full federal and state financial aid, so their tuition and fees are covered. Often, however, some experience sudden changes to their income that supports their daily living expenses. As a result, many have no means to keep their educational dreams on track. Imagine the challenge of studying for a calculus exam when you live out of your car.

Other individuals have come to us having enrolled at MVCC years ago, when their lives were not as orderly and stable as they are today. Back then, they dropped out of college and never paid their tuition balance. Years later having successfully completed the hard work required to get their lives back on track, they’re ready to restart their educational dreams, but that old tuition balance remains, preventing them from enrolling until the outstanding bill has been paid. As you might imagine, a balance of $1,500 might as well be $150,000 to these individuals.

We’ve also identified a root cause issue associated with career education. Although MVCC offers more than 40 career camps each year to nearly 400 youth between 7 and 17 years old, the programs are non-credit, self-supported experiences that enroll only those students whose families can afford to pay the cost. Often, the students who need such important career exposure are those who do not have the means to pay – most often less than $200 for a full week of unique, career-oriented learning.

The Breaking Barriers initiative in MVCC’s Challenge and Opportunity campaign seeks to address each of these problems in significant ways. The Campaign will expand the initial support of a visionary donor who helped the MVCC Foundation recently create a Fresh Start Fund that pays the outstanding balance for students who dropped out of MVCC years ago. The Fund requires student “repayment” through volunteering 9 hours a week during the first semester at one of our many partner non-profit organizations.

The Campaign also will establish an Emergency Fund to assist students who just need a little help to navigate unexpected barriers to their education. In addition, the Campaign will provide funding for career camps for economically disadvantaged youth in the area and provide them with the important experiences necessary to help make learning and school relevant.

The MVCC Challenge and Opportunity Campaign is not so much about building buildings as it is about building creative solutions to barriers that often confront community college students and their families. Our goal is to provide our students and the greater community with a firm foundation upon which to pursue even bigger dreams and secure greater success than anyone thought possible. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.