January 19, 2011

Jefferson City - Missouri State University-West Plains is in the 10th poorest congressional district in the nation. Only 12 percent of the adult population in the region it serves has a college degree, and half of its students are first generation college students. Ninety-five percent receive financial aid, and many work full time while attending school. President Drew Bennett calls the college "an island of opportunity in a sea of need."

Missouri State University-West Plains is one of 20 recipients of the College Access Challenge Grant to help minority and under-served populations attain a college degree.

The Missouri State University-West Plains grant proposal entitled "Project Threshold" focuses on students in 23 public school districts, private academies and organizations offering adult basic education courses. The college began hosting "extravaganzas" at high schools in its seven-county service area in 2007 to convince the student body that college is within their grasp. Since that time, the percentage of high school graduates going on to college has increased 5.6 percent.

"We are spreading the word that education is affordable, accessible and appropriate," Bennett says. "It is the most effective way to break the cycle of poverty."

The College Access Challenge Grant Program was passed by Congress in 2007 as part of the omnibus College Cost Reduction and Access Act. It is intended to foster partnerships among federal, state and local governments and non-profit organizations through matching challenge grants that are aimed at increasing the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

To date, more than 60,000 low-income first generation students received services pertaining to college access, retention and completion. The Missouri Department of Higher Education will distribute about $1.6 million to 20 organizations during this grant cycle, the third year of distributions.

Recipients are:

  • College Bound, St. Louis -- $100,000
  • College Summit, St. Louis -- $100,000
  • De La Salle Middle School, St. Louis -- $99,838.65
  • Harris-Stowe State University, St. Louis -- $46,328
  • Hogan Preparatory Academy, Kansas City -- $87,760
  • Metropolitan Community College, Kansas City -- $100,000
  • Missouri State University, Springfield -- $100,000
  • Missouri State University, West Plains -- $98,500
  • North Side Community Center, St. Louis -- $92,037
  • State Fair Community College, Sedalia -- $99,368
  • St. Louis Internship Program, St. Louis -- $35,604
  • Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau -- $100,000
  • South Central Career Center, West Plains -- $85,847.38
  • The Community Partnership, Rolla -- $41,374
  • The Infinite Scholars Program of Missouri, St. Louis, Kansas City, Park Hills -- $64,800
  • The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, St. Louis -- $100,000
  • The University of Missouri Extension 4-H Center, St. Louis, Kansas City, mid-Missouri -- $100,000
  • Truman State University, Kirksville -- $58,127
  • University of Missouri, Columbia -- $100,000
  • Wyman, St. Louis -- $99,997