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11/17/2010 - Jackson, Miss.

Dreams of becoming a doctor, lawyer, teacher or rocket scientist begin with the first steps toward a college education—understanding the process, selecting a school and find the resources. Mississippi has been awarded $1.85 million to help students find answers and realize their dreams. The one-year federal College Access Challenge Grant is designed to foster partnerships among federal, state, and local governments and non-profit organizations and increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

In Mississippi, the grant funds will be used to provide a continuum of services to make college more accessible to all Mississippians and help more college students to complete degrees. The grant will fund mentoring programs for students, informational programs for parents and grandparents and a Web site for students, parents, grandparents and counselors.

"The College Access Challenge Grant provides us with the opportunity to help thousands of students begin their college journeys," said Dr. Hank M. Bounds, Commissioner of Higher Education. "Providing this information to first-generation college students and their families is particularly important."

Some grant activities, such as college planning, academic preparation and financial literacy services, will be targeted at low-income students in 19 school districts in the Mississippi Delta and Southwest Mississippi. College students at partner postsecondary institutions will provide basic college information and encouragement to students in these districts through an innovative near-peer mentoring model. Counselor-led school teams in these districts will receive financial literacy training through a partnership with the Mississippi Council on Economic Education (MCEE). In addition, the grant will partner with the Mississippi Scholars program, sponsored by the Public Education Forum and the Mississippi Economic Council, to expand its community-based mentoring services into the targeted school districts.

To reach students statewide, the grant will provide support for College Goal Sunday, an initiative to help high school seniors and their families complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The grant will also offer professional development opportunities to middle and high school counselors to better equip them to provide college and career counseling to students and their families. Funds from the grant will continue to provide printed toolkits and brochures as well as online information through the state's college access website, RiseUpMS.com.

"Navigating through the application process and understanding student financial can be daunting tasks to many students," said Dr. Al Rankins Jr., Associate Commissioner for Academic and Student Affairs. "The activities funded by the grant are designed to provide a compass and roadmap for students that will lead them to fulfilling their potential."

Plans for the grant include developing a web-based transfer tool to help community college students transfer into four-year institutions and continue towards degree completion. Additionally, the grant will be used in partnership with USA Funds and the State Community College Board to launch a statewide retention initiative aimed at developing plans for improved retention practices at each of the state's 23 public colleges and universities.

"It is absolutely necessary in the 21st century for Mississippians to be educated," Dr. Eric Clark, Executive Director of the State Community College Board, said. "The College Access Challenge Grant will help community college students make the transition from our two year institutions to universities, along with improving our retention rates. This will benefit both our students and the entire state."

This is the third year that Mississippi has received the federal grant, first authorized by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. Mississippi is required to match the federal funds at a rate of 1:2. The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning was appointed by Governor Haley Barbour to administer the grant.

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The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning governs the public universities in Mississippi, including Alcorn State University; Delta State University; Jackson State University; Mississippi State University including the Mississippi State University Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine; Mississippi University for Women; Mississippi Valley State University; the University of Mississippi including the University of Mississippi Medical Center; and the University of Southern Mississippi.

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