Virginia Tech is forming the College Access Collaborative to strengthen the university’s existing commitment to increase access to higher education.

Currently, Virginia Tech serves the Commonwealth of Virginia by partnering with communities that typically graduate a lower number of college-bound high school students. The collaborative’s outreach efforts will be led by a newly created organizational unit with dedicated personnel and resources that will leverage current efforts and form new partnerships across the state.

“It is in our mission as a land-grant university to continue removing barriers that can prevent access to higher education. While Virginia Tech has been committed to this in the past, we realized there was an opportunity to do even more through the formation of the College Access Collaborative,” said Provost Thanassis Rikakis. “Our motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), and commitment to an inclusive community through InclusiveVT further exemplify the mission of this initiative. The university’s dedication to expansion of these outreach efforts is synergistic with our stated goals of attracting and enrolling the 'VT-Shaped Student' – a student who will engage in a purpose-driven curriculum preparing the student to succeed in the global marketplace.”

Karen Eley Sanders, associate vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs and director of student success, will lead the collaborative in her new role as associate vice provost for college access. She’s coordinated precollege and pipeline initiatives through the Student Success Center, including a highly successful partnership with An Achievable Dream Academy in Newport News, Virginia, which will serve as a model for the Virginia Tech College Access Collaborative.

An Achievable Dream Academy is designed to support students who may otherwise struggle in school due to socioeconomic factors. Currently, 95 percent of their graduates go to college and the rest join the military. Virginia Tech formed a partnership with the school in 2009, providing resources, such as hands-on STEM-H experiential workshops, academic skills development sessions, and professional development for teachers, visits to campus, and scholarships for students.

“Our partnership with Achievable Dream has been a win-win for the school and Virginia Tech. Achievable Dream already had some wonderful things in motion to promote the success of first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students. We were able to help take them to the next level and form valuable relationships along the way with some of their students making Virginia Tech their next stop,” Sanders said. “We look forward to cultivating similar partnerships with new communities.”

Achievable Dream Academy reception
Provost Thanassis Rikakis (far left, back row) and Karen Eley Sanders (far left, front row) with Virginia Tech students from the Achievable Dream Academy at spring 2016 reception.

The collaborative will begin implementing programs incrementally across Virginia in some of its underserved communities, particularly inner cities and rural areas. Partnerships will involve a multipronged approach to provide support, outreach, and resources to students, parents, teachers, and counselors within identified schools. Services and activities will include seminars and advising on college preparation, teacher and counselor professional development workshops and mentorship, and student and parent visits to Virginia Tech, among others.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Sanders said. “It will be important for the staff of the collaborative and our campus partners to form relationships with our new school partners to see what programs and resources best support their communities. The goal is for students to have a better K-12 educational experience and see college as a realistic next step, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Of course, we’d love for them to consider becoming a Hokie and will provide financial support for some of our partners’ students to come here.” (Related: Read about Achievable Dream and Virginia Tech graduate, Jaketa Linzy)

“The collaborative will join with other key partners in Enrollment Management, specifically with Undergraduate Admissions, University Scholarships and Financial Aid, and Summer Sessions, to facilitate access and provide a successful transition for students from these partner schools who decide to come to Virginia Tech,” said Wanda Hankins Dean, vice provost for enrollment and degree management. “In addition, we will partner with the Student Success Center to ensure student have academic support and engagement throughout their college experience to help them succeed.”

Virginia Tech has begun reaching out to school systems to identify future partnerships, including elementary, middle, and high schools.

As Sanders transitions to her new responsibilities overseeing the collaborative, Mary Ann Lewis will serve as interim assistant provost for student success initiatives in addition to her responsibilities as assistant provost for first-year experiences.

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