A local long-term commitment to free college

A foundation in rural southern Virginia is pledging $10.3 million to ensure new high school graduates in the area can attend the local community college free of charge.

The Harvest Foundation on Thursday announced the 13-year grant to Patrick & Henry Community College (P&HCC) that will add to its support for the college’s SEED Fund, which was established in 2017 as a three-year pilot program and has shown encouraging results.

“The question of ‘can I afford to go to college’ will never again be asked by a school-age student in Martinsville-Henry County,” P&HCC President Greg Hodges said in a press release. “The financial barrier of attending college has been removed for an entire generation.”

Showing promise

P&HCC established the SEED Fund with a $3.1 million grant from the Harvest Foundation. Since then, the first two cohorts of SEED students are completing college at a rate that is double the national average for community college students, according to P&HCC.

Fall-to-spring retention rates increased by 6%, while fall-to-fall retention rates increased by 16%, the college reported. SEED students also stay in school and earn credentials at higher rates than their counterparts.

“For many students, the desire to attend college is there, they just need reassurance that it is possible and within their reach. The SEED Fund gives them that reassurance and hope,” said Kate Keller, president of the Harvest Foundation.

The foundation has a history of supporting the college. In addition to the SEED Fund, in 2018 it provided a $5.8 million grant to the college for workforce development and to develop a training partnership with local healthcare providers.

To be eligible

To qualify for the SEED Fund, recent local high school graduates must have at least a 2.5 minimum grade point average (GPA) and must file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid each year. They also must complete eight hours of community service for each year of participation.

Covid has prompted the college to make some temporary tweaks to the requirements. For example, it suspended the community service component for this academic year, and the minimum GPA has been lowered to 2.3 for recent graduating seniors.

“We recognize that a student’s opportunity to raise a GPA during the spring of 2021 has been significantly impacted by COVID,” the college said on its website.

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