HIGHER EDUCATION Network objective: improving access to the state's colleges

The program recently opened a branch at Kent State Salem.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Higher education in Ohio can be described by high tuition costs, a low percentage of people with bachelor's degrees and a lower percentage of high school students matriculating to college than in many other states.
Or it can be described by a network that is working to change all of that.
To increase the number of high school students who go to college, the Ohio College Access Network offers free services regarding higher education to students and parents.
Joe Rottenborn, executive director of the Mahoning Valley College Access Program, a local branch of OCAN, said economic development of the Mahoning Valley will benefit as the area has more college graduates.
The Mahoning Valley College Access Program has branches at Youngstown State University and Kent State University Trumbull Campus. This year, the program opened a branch at Kent State Salem to accommodate Columbiana County residents.
Programs available
"The idea is a partnership that involves not only the access programs, but also community leaders," Rottenborn said, stressing that the program is locally funded through grants so people do not have to pay for the programs.
Financial aid services are the most popular for the program, serving 98 students the first year it was offered, 564 students the second year and more than 1,000 students the third year, Rottenborn said.
"Paying for college is often unknown territory for first-generation college students and their parents," Rottenborn said, adding that the program helps students and parents fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which some people find to be "mind-boggling."
The program also helps students with the college application process.
Rottenborn said advisers for the program encourage students to apply for more schools than they normally would so they can pick the school that is the most affordable.
The MVCAP has awarded "last dollar grants" to students in August to help them go to college. This service continues to expand. Eighteen $1,000 scholarships were awarded last year.
The program also awards local scholarships from donating organizations and groups to students each year.
Parental advising, which helps prepare parents for their children's higher education, community workshops, which help families start planning for college, and early awareness programs, which prepare eighth-graders in Warren City Schools for college, are also provided.
In addition to guidance counselors, MVCAP has its own advisers in local schools who are there to help students further their education.
A majority of the high school seniors in the Mahoning Valley that went through the program in 2005 decided to go to schools in Ohio.
Overall, the most popular schools that students in the program have attended are YSU with 122 students, Kent State with 76 students, the University of Akron with 39 students and Ohio State University with 27 students.
"I count the number of times I get 'You're my angel' from parents each year," Rottenborn said. "Kids are very appreciative because we want to see them succeed. We can change students' lives by helping them go to college."
Network background
The Ohio College Access Network was founded in 1999 by KnowledgeWorks Foundation in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Business Roundtable.
OCAN has more than 30 local access programs in nearly half of Ohio's 612 school districts.
The Mahoning Valley College Access Program was established in December 2000 with help from the Raymond John Wean Foundation.
This program is the first statewide network of independent, community based college access programs in the country.
The program does not solely focus on sending students to colleges and universities. It also helps students get into certificate programs and associate degree programs.
For more information, contact Rottenborn at the Trumbull County office at (330) 675-7606 or at Rottenbornj@trumbull.kent.edu or at the Mahoning County office at (330) 941-7477 or jfrottenborn@ysu.edu.

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