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College Access Challenge Grant Program
Goals & Initiatives



Goal Statement

The goal of Virginia's College Access Challenge Grant Program is to promote collaboration and support innovative and proven practices that are sustainable and increase access to higher education for underrepresented populations statewide.

The goal is realized through funding and coordinated initiatives revolving around the following five objective focus areas:


  1. Collaboration - To foster partnerships among public, private and community-based organizations that strengthen services, leverage resources and research and develop innovative practices that promote college access.

  2. College-going Culture - To support schools and communities in developing an environment that recognizes the value of higher education by building awareness of postsecondary resources and options and nurturing college and career aspirations for all Virginians.

  3. Professional Development - To increase the knowledge and capacity of professionals working to help underrepresented populations realize their college and career goals.

  4. College and Career Advising - To assist underrepresented populations in making informed decisions about the future and pursuing their college and career goals.

  5. Financial Aid - To increase FAFSA completion rates and knowledge of financial aid opportunities.

Funded program partnerships and initiatives that support the above goal and objectives include the following:

Virginia Makes Going to College as Easy as 1-2-3

Recognizing that the college process can be intimidating, CACGP is working in partnership with Office of the Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), the Council of Independent Colleges and Universities in Virginia (CICV), and the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA) to offer a series of collaborative events beginning in November 2013 to help guide Virginia students and families through the college exploration, application and financial aid processes.

Virginia FAFSA Completion Challenge

In collaboration with the U. S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid, SCHEV and partners and stakeholders across the state will work to increase FAFSA completion in Virginia by 4%-that’s almost 15,000 more applications than submitted last year.  The challenge will take place between September 2013 and May 2014 and state progress will be tracked and updated monthly on the Virginia Association of Student Aid Administrators (VASFAA) website (see links below).

Related links and downloads

College Access and Financial Aid Direct Service Programs

CACGP supports services to middle school students in the Tidewater region through a partnership with Access College Foundation in order to increase early awareness and post-secondary aspirations among students and families ($119,492). Access coordinators conduct classroom and one-on-one sessions on potential careers, postsecondary education options and financial aid. They also share information and resources with families and parents from underserved communities through newsletters and Parent Night events.

GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program, Inc. (GRASP) works to increase access of students from low-income backgrounds to postsecondary education by offering in-school financial aid advising services in 65 high schools across the state ($245,000). At these schools, GRASP advisors assist students and their families with applications for financial aid and scholarships. GRASP advisors also provide support to students as they matriculate through college to promote college success and completion. To educate the public on financial aid, GRASP conducts community-based advising services through its Saturdays at the Library programand educational presentations at community events. 

CACGP funds underwrite the cost for up to 25 Northern Virginia Community College Pathway to the Baccalaureate Program students to attend the Virginia Latino Higher Education Network’s (VALHEN) 2013 Hispanic College Institute (HCI) at Virginia State University ($25,000). HCI is a summer residential program designed to promote, educate and empower underrepresented students and families to successfully navigate the higher education system and pursue a postsecondary education.

Project Discovery provides services to students from low-income backgrounds and their families to help them gain exposure to, and ultimate success in, postsecondary education ($435,000). Project Discovery works through a statewide network of 24 community-based organizations and surrounding schools to provide workshops and one-on-one and group student advising on topics such as time management, study skills, and conflict resolution. The program helps participating students obtain SAT/ ACT test fee waivers, complete the FAFSA and identify scholarships. Program coordinators are also able to make referrals for other community resources and services and coordinate college campus tours that provide exposure and education for the entire family.

CACGP supports the Virginia Community College System's community-based Career Coach program in Virginia’s Southside region ($120,000).  The purpose of the Career Coach is to empower prospective college students to make informed decisions about their career and educational plans and to prepare students for success in postsecondary education and training.  To reach those who have traditionally been underserved by the higher education system, Career Coaches based at Southside Virginia Community College and Danville Community College travel throughout the region, participating in outreach activities and coordinating events and workshops while working collaboratively within the community to seek out students where they live, work and socialize.

With support from CACGP, Virginia Tidewater Consortium for Higher Education (VTC) provides students and parents in greater Hampton Roads, including the Eastern Shore, with knowledge about postsecondary information through workshops, career assessment, mentoring and counseling services ($150,000). VTC’s Hampton Roads Outreach Program (HROP) addresses the needs of at-risk students and young adults who were not successful in the educational system by helping them recognize the connection between careers and education and then supporting them in exploring, applying, and paying for postsecondary education. VTC also creates television programming, Inside Higher Education, for a local public access channel, also available by podcast, where issues and resources impacting access to higher education are discussed.

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Adult Degree Completion Projects

To build upon the research findings, best practices and recommendations in the CACGP commissioned Assessment of Opportunities and Models for Adults to Complete the Baccalaureate Degree at Virginia’s Four-Year Institutions study, SCHEV awarded over $300,000 to support Virginia’s 2- and 4-year educational institutions to develop projects that demonstrate achievement of intermediate outcomes leading to increased degree completion for Virginia’s adults. The six sub-grantees of the CACGP-funded Increasing Adult Degree Completion grant are as follows:

  1. George Mason University, Online Adult Student Information System (OASIS)
    George Mason University (GMU) uses funds to develop an Online Adult Student Information System - OASIS ($48,819). Gathering the information necessary to make a determination to return to college can present barriers for many adult learners. The project helps to create a virtual “one-stop shop” considered important to the success of students who desire to easily understand what is needed in order to complete a baccalaureate degree. OASIS is a web-based decision-making tool that assists adult students with selecting the best-fit adult degree completion program and specialization at the University. The system identifies prospective careers aligned with regional industry needs, prior learning assessment options and financial aid and then connects student users with online advisors and tutors.

  2. James Madison University, Return to Madison
    James Madison University (JMU) received funds to help identify, contact and advise stop-out students on options to complete their degree, including earning PLA credits ($47,539). Upon identifying a student who was enrolled at JMU between 1995 and 2008, earned more than 30 college credits and is 25 and older, the University initiates a marketing campaign, including face-to-face information sessions in priority geographic and socioeconomic regions of the state, to make students aware of the options for returning to college. JMU emphasizes individual counseling to adult learners utilizing software with research-based career mapping and pathway analysis features that highlight skills, knowledge, experience and education in demand on a regional, state, and national basis. Staff is trained in administering the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) program which allows students to earn credits for prior learning and helps to decrease time to degree completion.

  3. Jefferson College of Health Sciences, Increasing Adult Degree Completion inHealth Sciences  
    Jefferson College of Health Sciences (JCHS) uses grant funds to implement study recommendations related to affordability and accessibility ($50,000). JCHS works to standardize procedures for providing credits for prior work experience while using existing online and ‘blended’ learning offerings to provide greater access and flexibility for adults. Affiliated with Carillion Clinic, a comprehensive not-for-profit health system and clinic serving residents in southwestern Virginia and West Virginia, the College identifies and engages regional employers in targeted sectors, both public and private, to facilitate placement of graduates in high growth health care positions. The College also creates a marketing campaign that informs adults about higher education opportunities and resources in order to increase regional enrollment of adult learners in baccalaureate-level degree programs.

  4. Northern Virginia Community College, Adult Learner Completion through Improved PLA Services
    NVCC designated resources to consolidate the administration of its Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) services to better reach and serve eligible adult learners through e-mail marketing, a new college webpage and related materials devoted to adult learners, public information sessions and one-on-one advising ($48,592). As the result of a burdensome process, there are a limited number of adult learners at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) that have earned PLA credits. Consequently, the college seeks to improve the process of PLA portfolio assessment services by exploring ways to engage faculty members and developing new portfolio evaluation procedures. The project also revisits the transferability of PLA credit in articulation agreements between the community college and public universities to remove unnecessary barriers to degree completion for adult learners.

  5. Piedmont Virginia Community College, Accelerated Pathways to the Baccalaureate for Veterans (Consortium application with Old Dominion University)
    This CACGP-funded project enables Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) to build the capacity to develop a comprehensive veteran’s affairs office to meet the college access and completion needs of veterans residing in the service area ($67,440). PVCC and Old Dominion University (ODU) join forces to provide accelerated pathways for veterans and their family members to complete an associate degree at PVCC and baccalaureate and graduate degrees at ODU. These pathways include an option for dual matriculation and the reversal of credits back to PVCC so that veterans earn the associate degree while actively pursuing their undergraduate 4-year degree.

  6. Virginia Wesleyan College, Virginia Wesleyan College Adult Degree Completion Initiative
  7. Virginia Wesleyan College’s initiative engages in a campaign of direct face-to-face contact and information delivery to low-income, military, and corporate adults who started but have not completed their bachelor’s degree ($50,000). The initiative targets the Norfolk and Portsmouth communities to attract adults to information sessions and one-on-one advisement opportunities to increase awareness of degree completion resources and to customize student plans for re-engaging in higher education.

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Information and Marketing Campaign

Virginia’s college-going culture is growing through the “I am the One” campaign ($320,000). was developed under the CACG Program. It is the Commonwealth’s educational and marketing campaign encouraging all students to pursue postsecondary education and empowering them with the information to take responsibility for their futures. Through the campaign, schools and communities receive free branded college knowledge resources and incentive items to share with their students and families. Campaign materials are designed and created in collaboration with Elevation Advertising, LLC.

With the aid of CACGP funds, Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) produces and distributes Opportunities: Preparing for Higher Education Guide and Workbook containing general college exploration information and Virginia-specific information on the state’s college options and financial aid resources ($75,000). This free booklet remains in high demand, as its reputation as a helpful resource for Virginia college access providers and high school juniors and seniors drives increased production annually.

Since the beginning of the CACG Program in Virginia, funds have been used to continue the expansion of user functionalities of the Virginia Community College System’s Virginia Education Wizard career planning system to increase access to comprehensive information about potential careers and postsecondary options and financial aid ($120,000). This year, CACGP funds support the development of a Virginia Education Wizard mobile application (app) to put the most utilized Wizard functions in the hands of students who want quick and direct access to information.

The One Club

The One Club (TOC) is piloted as an extracurricular school club/activity in 13 high schools, which formerly participated in the state GEAR UP program.  With the support from the state GEAR UP grant, TOC students and their club sponsor (stipend) meet regularly to learn about existing postsecondary opportunities, the college enrollment process, and paying for college. Students plan events, participate in workshops, and promote opportunities that encourage their fellow classmates to get ready for, and to succeed in, college.  As part of a network, these extra-curricular clubs are given monthly challenges with informational resources and technical assistance to support related programming. Rewards such as local football tickets, homecoming passes and/or gift certificates are often provided to recognize Club achievements. CACGP funding supports Club-sponsored college campus tours ($10,000).

Virginia College Application Week

College Application Week is a national initiative designed to increase the number of first-generation and low-income students pursuing a college degree or other higher education credential.  Virginia joined the American College Application Campaign in fall 2012 by offering the Commonwealth’s first College Application Week, November 22-26th ($14,000). The pilot event in Virginia resulted in the submission of over 3,000 college applications from 16 Virginia high schools with an average free and reduced lunch rate of 62%. Based upon the success of the first College Application Week in 2012, CACGP in partnership with the state’s Secretary of Education and Council of Independent Colleges and Universities in Virginia (CICV) plans to expand the new annual event in the 2013-2014 school year, by doubling the number of participating high school sites.

“Super Saturday” FAFSA Workshops

In partnership with the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA), CACGP supported “Super Saturday” events at locations across the state ($27,000). During February 2013, Virginia’s Financial Aid Awareness month, 59 Super Saturday sites provided communities with information about the financial aid process and hands-on assistance in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Sites were provided with promotional materials and a stipend to offset the cost of hosting the event.

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