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WVU-P launching program to help students ‘Ascend’

PARKERSBURG — A program at West Virginia University at Parkersburg to help students earn certificates and associate degrees by increasing financial, academic and personal support will be starting this fall, university officials announced Monday.

In a Zoom presentation, university officials, state college officials and a representative from the Arnold Ventures Foundation announced WVU-P’s Accelerating Student Completion: Encouraging New Dreams (Ascend) Program.

Funded by a $1.7 million, five-year grant from Arnold Ventures, Ascend is modeled after the Accelerated Studies in Associate Programs (ASAP) at City University of New York’s (CUNY) colleges. WVU Parkersburg is one of two community colleges in West Virginia selected to pilot this $4.2 million program. The other is Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg.

“This is the largest single foundation grant in the history of West Virginia University at Parkersburg,” WVU-P President Chris Gilmer said. “It is indeed a transformational gift for a university of our size in rural West Virginia.

“It is to strengthen the retention and completion rate of our associate degree students. We are very proud of our focus on being a community college which also offers bachelor’s degrees. We are hoping those who complete their associate degrees here will go on and pursue their bachelor’s degrees here.”

The grant will allow WVU-P to offer additional support for students from around the area to improve their lives and the lives of their families through education, said Donna Smith, chairwoman of the Board of Governors for West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

“Student success is the top priority of the college’s leadership and everyone who serves there,” she said.

Sarah Armstrong Tucker, chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System (CTCS), said the two schools will be providing financial support so students will be able to finish their certificates and associate degrees.

“In order for the State of West Virginia to be successful to grow its economy we need at least 60 percent of our population to have some form of post-secondary credentials by 2030,” she said. “That is a big leap.

“This grant will get us much close to reaching that goal.”

Students will be supported who are going into such fields as advanced manufacturing, information technology, welding, health care and other fields.

“(Once completed) they will have promising careers waiting for them here in West Virginia,” Tucker said.

WVU Parkersburg Ascend students will receive textbook assistance to reduce or eliminate the cost of books; a monthly Kroger gift card to help pay for groceries or gas; a tuition gap waiver covering remaining tuition and mandatory fees left after applying a student’s financial aid award; a devoted advisor from start to graduation; special registration options to get students the courses that best fit their schedule; and enhanced academic and career assistance from campus support areas.

“We want students to graduate, graduate on time and enter into the workforce as expeditiously as possible,” said Chad Crumbaker, provost.

Over the past couple of years, the university has added additional support programs as students have pursued degrees.

“This grant, this opportunity, will allow us to go up to the next level and increase those completion rates for our students so they can be successful,” Crumbaker said.

Erin Crossett, evidence based policy manager from Arnold Ventures, said the ASAP model is a proven way of increasing the number of students graduating, significantly increasing the graduation rates in states where it has been applied.

“In West Virginia, we are excited to see the program expanded in the hopes more West Virginians can graduate with occupational focused degrees that lead to higher wage jobs that are in demand in local economies, increasing their long-term earnings and contributing to the West Virginia economy,” Crossett said.

Crumbaker said they are planning to have 60 students in the initial start of the program this fall. They are planning to get that number up to around 120 as the program grows.

“We will be able to serve many students and have them successfully completed on time,” he said.

To be eligible for Ascend, students must have fewer than 15 college credits (credits obtained by high school students are not counted unless a student has 30 or more credits), minimum 2.0 GPA and enroll in an Ascend-approved major. Students must qualify for in-state tuition and re-apply for FAFSA each year, accepting all federal and state grants and scholarships. Those in the program will be enrolled as full-time students.

WVU-P has 16 programs focused on workforce needs.

The focus of the recipients will be occupational fields, such as advanced manufacturing, nursing, information technologies and others, Crossett said.

“There is a high degree of likelihood that these programs would increase the earnings potential for an individual with ties to the local economy,” she said.

Also, computer science, welding, electrical instrumentation and other technical fields will be the programs that will be the primary focus of the program, officials said.

The bulk of the funding will be put into the incentive programs and for the advisor part of the program, Crumbaker said.

The program is designed for people working towards their certificates and associate degrees. The hope is to encourage some of those people to continue on to a bachelor’s degree.

“We will be focusing on people meeting their career goals, workforce goals and what they are looking to do,” Crumbaker said. “Are they looking to continue their education or looking to get into the workforce.”

The university launched its application process this month and the process will continue to July 1. After that they will begin determining who the first 60 students will be.

“We have no concern about filling the first 60 seats,” Gilmer said.

Those interested in applying can contact ascend@wvup.edu or 304-424-8353 or apply to WVU Parkersburg Ascend at wvup.edu/ascend.

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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