The nonprofit program is funded by contributions and grants.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- A program launched last year aims to increase the number of students in the Mahoning Valley who go on to higher education.
"Our mission is to increase the number of students in the Mahoning Valley who go on to education beyond high school," said Dr. Joe Rottenborn, executive director of Mahoning Valley College Access Program.
The program was started in 2001 by the Raymond John Wean Foundation of Warren. It's funded by donations and grants and includes support from schools, business and universities in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.
According to the program's Web site, the area and Ohio rank poorly in the number of students attending college.
A Case Western Reserve University study found the Youngstown-Warren region near the bottom of the 75 largest metropolitan areas in the percentage of young people who pursue higher education.
MVCAP is based on similar programs through the state.
A pilot program began at Warren G. Harding High School in January, providing financial aid advisers and representatives from area colleges and universities to students and their parents. The representatives provided information on college admissions and financial aid.
The advisers assisted students in completing applications forms for which application fees were waived. They also provided information about federal financial aid.
"Warren and Youngstown City Schools have been the prime focus," said Rottenborn, who retired as superintendent of Columbiana Exempted Village schools at the end of last year. He previously worked as assistant superintendent in both the Chagrin Falls and Canfield school districts.
"Just knowing that we have a support in the high school addressing and creating an awareness of college and financial aid is a tremendous help," said Betty English, Warren City Schools superintendent.
The college access administrators also help students to register for college entrance exams.
"All of these things create an awareness for out students especially a first generation college student," English said. "It's just a tremendous program, I think."
Pilot programs also launched last year at West Branch and Springfield Local School Districts and the Choffin Career Center in Youngstown.
MVCAP officials hope to return to Harding weekly, starting Sept. 18, to provide information and assistance to high school seniors about college admissions and financial aid.
Between January and July, MVCAP assisted 89 students and 30 parents. The nonprofit organization also provided last-dollar scholarships to 15 students in the two counties. Each scholarship was for $600.
Last-dollar scholarships provide money to help fill the gap between the total cost of a year of college and what federal guidelines say a family can afford to pay.
Besides the financial aid assistance and last-dollar scholarships, MVCAP also focuses on early-college awareness and resource centers.
Resource centers, offering information about colleges and universities, have been established at the main branches of the Mahoning and Trumbull County libraries.
Second-graders at McKinley Elementary School, Warren, were provided with books, "I Know I Can," that teachers use in the classrooms.
"It's to emphasize that college is important and attainable," Rottenborn said.
English said the books marked the beginning of the school's career awareness program. The books highlight different careers and emphasize post-secondary education.
The program also incorporates reading and music.
"We're hoping to plant the seed about the importance of college early among the young," Rottenborn said.