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College tuition may soon be covered for Patrick County grads 

The Patrick County Education Foundation [PCEF] adopted a goal that, when realized, will likely make a significant economic impact in the county and could change the course of many lives.

The foundation intends to establish the Patrick County Promise – a program that will enable high school students to get a college degree from PHCC without paying a dime.

This Promise program will be a $2 million endowment to fund in perpetuity the tuition, textbooks, and fees of high school graduates who live in Patrick County. Students who take advantage of the Promise program will be able to attend PHCC for up two and half years for free.

This Promise program would be a celebrated addition to any county, but in Patrick County, this could be the antidote to an ever-growing, serious problem. Despite having some of the highest high school graduation rates in Virginia, Patrick County’s post-high school credential attainment rates are almost half the national and statewide average. Compounding the issue, economists project that at least 60 percent of jobs in 2025 will require a post-high school credential. That is more than double the current 30 percent.

Without a big change, the future could be grim for Patrick County and its thousands of citizens who have never graduated from college. Thankfully, PCEF’s big announcement could be exactly the change the county needs to raise the college attainment levels exponentially. By 2025, the PCEF expects the percentage of Patrick County adults between the ages of 25 and 64 with a post-high school credential to equal or surpass surrounding counties and locales.

“The Patrick Promise promotes a vision for Patrick’s children which has been imagined for over two decades by the Patrick County Education Foundation,” Dr. Stewart Roberson, chairman of the foundation board, said. “Patrick’s children, who are among Virginia’s top performers in all rural localities, will benefit mightily from this strong partnership with Patrick Henry Community College.  Our high school graduates’ achievement levels will be bolstered even more so by the opportunities of the Patrick Promise to develop deep skill sets that will position them successfully in a global economy.”

This would not be the first time the foundation has successfully made a big impact in the county.

In 2001 and under the leadership of then chairman Gov. Gerald Baliles, the foundation targeted high school graduation rates by adopting a 10-year goal of bringing Patrick County from near the bottom of state educational rankings to one of the top five rural counties in Virginia.

The focus was on increasing the number of adults with high school equivalency, providing college coaching services and scholarships, and providing workforce training. The goal was met within five years. Now, the foundation is optimistic that their new Patrick County Promise program can have similar success and be the catalyst the county needs to boost post-high school attainment and spur economic development.

Patrick County’s Economic Development Director, Bryce Simmons, said he has great hope for the long-term investment.

“Being the first male in my family to graduate college has taught me that education is a long-term investment that will open up opportunities you don’t always expect. The Patrick Promise is just that, a realization that access to education will drive economic prosperity,” said Simmons. “The citizens of Patrick County have a desire for knowledge, for both professional and personal reasons, and in many cases, a lack of funds determines educational outcomes. The jobs being created in our region are paying more, but they are also requiring skill sets and credentials beyond what is taught in high school. I look forward to additional promises being made in Patrick County and other ways to further economic development efforts.”

A few years ago, Martinsville and Henry County high school students received an almost incomprehensible gift when the Harvest Foundation made it possible for any local high school graduate to attend college for free. Unfortunately, the Harvest Foundation is limited by federal guidelines and could only provide the funding to students in Martinsville and Henry County. Since then, leaders of the Patrick County Education Foundation have actively worked and fundraised to provide an equivalent opportunity to Patrick students as well.

Since 2017, when the SEED program began in Martinsville and Henry County, nearly 700 students have benefited. Collectively, SEED students have earned over 300 academic credentials and embedded industry recognized certifications. For many students, without the SEED Fund, college simply would not be an option.

Patrick students soon will have the same opportunity due to the foundation’s fund-raising commitment. It is almost impossible to calculate the economic impact for the region when every high school student has an opportunity to increase their earning potential.

Rebecca Adcock, executive director of the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce, said, “having a more locally grown talent and workforce is an integral piece in the economic microarray. A better workforce assists our current employers in staying on the competitive edge in their industries and vital in attracting new industries and businesses.”

To contribute to the Patrick County Promise, visit http://patrickhenryfoundation.com/. Simply click “donate now” and select “Patrick County Promise” in the “Designated Gifts” menu.

Donors also may contact Dr. Greg Hodges, Vice President of Academic and Student Success Services and Executive Director of the Patrick County Education Foundation at ghodges@patrickhenry.edu or 276-656-0314.

 

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