Virginia Tech’s College Access Collaborative has been opening doors to higher education for low-income and underserved students around the commonwealth since 2016. A recently awarded $3.4 million grant from the Virginia State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV) will help them swing the doors open even wider.

The grant will fund VT GPS, a multiyear collaborative effort to recruit and retain students eligible for federal Pell grants, a marker of high financial need. The program will include outreach to high schoolers, STEM tutoring, and financial and academic support for students as they transition to college.

“It's an opportunity to reach more underrepresented, underserved students, particularly with a focus on Pell-eligible students,” said Mary Grace Campos, director of College Access Collaborative.

Bringing more Pell students to Virginia Tech

Since 2016, College Access Collaborative’s programs have had measurable success in creating a pathway to college for first-generation, underrepresented, and low-income high schoolers.

  • Its initiatives helped the university seat its most diverse first-year class ever in the fall of 2022, with 40 percent of students identifying as underrepresented or underserved.
  • Applications to Virginia Tech from College Access Collaborative’s 24 partner high schools have risen 134 percent, while enrollments from accepted students soared by 78 percent.
  • Virginia Tech serves five times more Pell recipients than William & Mary and almost twice as many as University of Virginia. 

Karen Eley Sanders, associate vice provost of college access, said the grant from SCHEV, the commonwealth’s governing body for higher education, is a chance to scale up existing efforts to recruit and retain more Pell-eligible students. “Our main focus will be on the retention piece,” she said. “If we retain and graduate those who come, that will accomplish SCHEV’s goal of degree completion for Pell-eligible students.”

Three approaches to access and retention

Spread over four years, the $3.4 million grant will fund three targeted strategies as part of VT GPS, which stands for Go to College, Pathways to STEM Success, Summer Start:

  • A statewide tour through Virginia high schools to engage with students and their families, educators, and counselors about their post–high school plans.
  • An intensive math intervention via McGraw-Hill’s ALEKS module to prepare admitted students to succeed in required university math courses, with one-on-one support from math mentors.
  • Scholarships for Summer Start, a program that ensures a smooth transition for first-year students. VT GPS will fund 50 Summer Start scholarships annually, worth an estimated $5,288 each, for Pell-eligible students. Participants start college six weeks early, earn college credit, receive academic support and peer mentoring, and participate in community-building activities.

There’s evidence that the three strategies that make up VT GPS are effective. For instance, financial assistance from the Clark Scholars program is awarded to up to 10 Pell-eligible, first-year engineering students annually, and it includes funding for Summer Start. “Our first cohort had a 100 percent graduation rate,” said Michael Herndon, director of summer and winter sessions. “We know this model works because we’re doing it. We just proposed that we do it on a larger scale.”  

In sync with Virginia Tech Advantage

As the university implements its Virginia Tech Advantage initiative as a leading strategic priority, VT GPS promises to collaboratively serve the same audience: undergraduate students from Virginia who have financial need.

“I'm happy that Virginia Tech has put the Virginia Tech Advantage and access and affordability out front,” said Eley Sanders. “It’s part of our land-grant mission as well. We’re committed to ensuring that all students have the opportunity for a Virginia Tech education because it takes students far.”

Who's involved

College Access Collaborative, part of Enrollment Management, also partners with units across campus in their effort to serve underserved and underrepresented populations:

  • Undergraduate Academic Affairs
  • Student Affairs
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • University Scholarships and Financial Aid
  • Undergraduate Admissions
  • Summer and Winter Sessions
  • School of Education’s mathematics education major

“It’s a campuswide initiative,” said Sanders. “Everyone has the opportunity to be involved.”

Share this story