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Access to college boosts opportunity

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By Gerald L. Cooper

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his dream of “opportunity to all,” he was articulating a vision of inclusiveness and healing.

To help young people achieve their own dreams and his vision, the South Hampton Roads area of Virginia has a college access program in its public schools.

Two Norfolk leaders, Frank Batten and Josh Darden, saw the potential of a college access program for their community 20 years ago, and they have worked ever since to provide opportunity for inner-city young people.

They established the program in 1987, first in Norfolk, then in Portsmouth, and eventually in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Suffolk.

Through ACCESS College Foundation, a public-private venture in the public schools, thousand of graduates have already gone on to higher education, and many more will follow.

ACCESS receives financial contributions and service from many benefactors and volunteers.

I became executive director of the Tidewater Scholarship Foundation in the summer of 1994, and I had opportunities to work with founders Frank Batten and Josh Darden.

I came from a capital campaign at Winston-Salem State University, where the leaders and volunteers of that historically black university had raised a record $25 million from the private sector.

That campaign created endowment for scholarships and operating functions, such as administrative positions and student loan programs.

Mr. Batten said the Tidewater Scholarship Foundation’s “last-dollar awards” — crucial final dollars for college aid — should be guaranteed by endowment funds, and that some operating functions  might be endowed.

He began to make anonymous endowment grants for the foundation to match, and we reached $4 million.

In 2003, after I had retired, he gave $11 million to endowment, assuring the future of the foundation’s programs.

In six years at ACCESS, I became convinced that many more seniors in America’s public schools can achieve postsecondary education, overcoming the lack of financial resources and college experience in their families.

The secret of the public-private partnership is to place advisors in the schools who are trained to give students information and encouragement about financial aid and college admissions.

That is these advisors’ only task, supervised by ACCESS program administrators. This daily focus is a big part of the program’s success.

College ACCESS is offered in Winston-Salem by the Crosby Scholars Community Partnership.

Forty miles north of Greensboro, former Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles has started the Patrick County College Access Program in a rural setting.


Gerald Cooper is a retired administrator and teacher in North Carolina and Virginia.

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