Southeast Awarded College Access Challenge Grant to Promote College Planning Among Cape School District Students



May 11, 2009 – Southeast Missouri State University has been awarded a $100,000 Missouri Department of Higher Education College Access Challenge Grant to develop sustainable, targeted college planning and financial literacy training for K-12 students, families and staff in the Cape Girardeau Public School District.

Through the program, the school district hopes to inform underrepresented students and their families of the benefits of higher education, the requirements to enroll in college, and the financial aid sources available to pay for college, said Vida Mays, director of pre-collegiate programs, Division of Enrollment Management and Student Success at Southeast Missouri State University. The program also will pave the way for outreach to be offered to economically disadvantaged and first generation students (known to be at higher risk of not enrolling or completing college), and assist students in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), she said.

Mays said the Cape Girardeau School District requested this partnership as a means of reducing their dropout rate and increasing the college attendance rate of low-income students. In 2008, 54.3 percent of the district’s students met free or reduced lunch guidelines, she said.

Although the program will extend to all grade levels, the district has identified the greatest need to be intervention in grades nine and 10.

Programming for ninth and 10th grade students and families will focus on improving the college readiness of these students at Cape Central High School. Services will be delivered through the school’s Preparing Students for Academic Success (PAS) classes. Counseling components will include test taking strategies, financial literacy as it relates to paying for college, the financial and social value of a college education, and developing the appropriate communication skills to succeed.  The program will further target a cohort of about 200 low-income, first-generation ninth and 10th grade students with a residential summer college experience and visits to various Missouri colleges and universities.

Programming for K-12th grade students and families will include classroom College Is Possible presentations in grades 6-8 and basic college awareness programs in the elementary grades.  Evening college awareness programs will be offered for K-8 families. As recommended by the U.S. Department of Education, older students and their parents will be encouraged to complete the FAFSA4CASTER to become familiar with the financial aid application process.    High school seniors and parents will receive assistance completing the FAFSA.

Programming also will be offered for K-12 school staff, including diversity, poverty and college readiness training for school district personnel. The objective is to train school personnel to develop relationships with underrepresented and underserved students and families, and better understand the challenges and needs of potential first generation college students.  

Southeast officials say benchmarks have been established to evaluate the program’s impact on FAFSA completion, high school completion, and college preparation and attendance rates. A program coordinator, summer instructors and tutor/mentors will be hired in the near future, Mays said.

On May 7, the Missouri Department of Higher Education awarded $731,018 to nine groups for programs that help low-income students attend college. Southeast was among those groups. According to the Missouri Department of Higher Education, more than 130,000 students in Missouri meet the requirements for need-based financial aid, but only about 80,000 students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the April 1 deadline needed to qualify for funds.  College Access Challenge Grants were created by Congress in 2007 to help low-income students take advantage of opportunities for a college education.  Missouri received about $900,000 to distribute this year, based on the number of residents living below the poverty line. Close to $300,000 remains to be distributed; another request for proposals will be issued later this month. The maximum grant award is $100,000.