Program will allow students to attend college for free

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Harvest Foundation President Allyson Rothrock.
Photo by Steven Mantilla

In the two weeks after it was announced in November, more than 150 high school seniors rushed to sign up for the first tuition free community college program in Virginia.   

The Harvest Student Excellence in Education (SEED) initiative, funded by a three-year grant totaling $3.1 million from the Harvest Foundation in Martinsville, makes the first two years of college at Patrick Henry Community College free of charge for all qualifying spring 2018 high school graduates in Martinsville and Henry County. It also is open to graduates of GED and recognized homeschool programs. An estimated 250 students will have the opportunity to take advantage of the program in its first year.

“Our strategic goal is to encourage economic growth in Martinsville-Henry County and to meet workforce needs of area businesses,” says Allyson Rothrock, the president of The Harvest Foundation.

“We are committed to supporting programs and initiatives that increase the number of individuals with the skills, means and resources to enter the Martinsville-Henry County workforce,” she says. “Patrick Henry Community College has been a strong partner since our inception in 2002.”

Students must enroll at the community college the first semester after graduating from high school. They must have a grade point average of 2.5 and maintain a 2.0 GPA upon enrollment. Students are required to register for a minimum of 15 credit hours per semester. They have up to two-and-a-half years to complete their degree or certificate.

The initiative is modeled after the Tennessee Promise, which provides two years of tuition-free attendance at community and technical colleges in that state.  “New York City and Los Angeles have similar programs as does Rhode Island. We are the first in Virginia,” says Greg Hodges, Patrick Henry’s vice president of academics and student success services.

He believes a significant number of students will take advantage of the program. They include students who can’t afford college because of financial barriers as well as college-bound students who want to get their first two years at Patrick Henry free and then transfer to a four-year college.

As tuition continues to rise, many middle-income families are finding it more difficult to pay for their children’s college education. “They make too much money to qualify for financial aid, but the students can’t afford college,” Hodges says. “We have no idea how many students can use the initiative, but we know it will help every one of them.” 

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