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Appalachian Scene: Building Character on Campus

by Carl Hoffman

It is three weeks into the fall semester at Alice Lloyd College, and freshman Leah Baird is deeply into . . . sweeping the cafeteria floor. J. D. Hall, also a freshman, is making candy. Seniors Tara Daniels and Goldie Hamilton are, respectively, assisting a grade-school teacher and shelving books in the library. And senior Brad Moore is managing staff at the college's computer center.

Like its more famous northeastern cousins, Alice Lloyd College is a small, private, liberal-arts college that stresses academic excellence. Its campus is a bucolic refuge of classrooms and heady green spaces perfect for the nurturing of young minds. But unlike those exclusive, high-priced institutions, Alice Lloyd requires that its students work, maintaining the grounds and much of the physical plant, cooking and serving the meals, and even cleaning the bathrooms.

"You call the president's office and sometimes the receptionist is an 18-year-old [student]," says Alice Lloyd's director of marketing and communications, Stephen Reed. "But that's what we're here for. We want to give kids a chance."

In an era of ever-rising college tuitions, Alice Lloyd College is a welcome anomaly. The 74-year-old college nestled in a steep-walled hollow in Pippa Passes (Knott County), Kentucky, guarantees tuition to any full-time student admitted from one of 100 central Appalachian counties. And most students receive room and board, too; 72 percent of Alice Lloyd's 500 students pay nothing, save about $400 a year for fees. Many later attend graduate schools on Alice Lloyd scholarships. And perhaps most impressive of all, some 70 percent of Alice Lloyd students—more than half of whom are the first generation in their families to attend college—remain in the Appalachian Region after graduation. "We're here to develop human and intellectual capital," says Alice Lloyd president Timothy T. Siebert, "and to serve students who have that spark of leadership potential, who can blossom and grow at Alice Lloyd and can later provide excellent leadership to Central Appalachia."

People, that is, like Terry Jacobs and Nicole Lackey. "If it hadn't been for Alice Lloyd College, I would have had difficulty affording a college education," says Jacobs, who graduated from Alice Lloyd in 1988. In 1994 he became a judge in the 36th judicial district of Kentucky, at the ripe old age of 27. "I am a product of what Alice Lloyd intended to provide," he says proudly.

Lackey, the daughter of a coal miner from Dingess, West Virginia, graduated from Alice Lloyd in 1995. Today she is a third-year medical student at Marshall University—on a scholarship from Alice Lloyd. "I intend to go back home when I graduate and help the people who gave me a start," she says. "And I can, because I won't have $120,000 in loans to pay back."

Alice Lloyd's Mission

If Alice Lloyd College's mission is unusual, so is its history. In 1915, Alice Spencer Geddes Lloyd, a Boston journalist turned social reformer, arrived in Knott County with the goal of improving social and economic conditions. In those days, the county had one college graduate, and only one person in 50 could read and write. The average annual income was $25. Lloyd built a cabin in remote Caney Creek on land donated to her Caney Creek Civic Betterment Association.

In 1919 she was joined by June Buchanan, who had learned of Lloyd's mission through her public appeals for donations and volunteers, and the two women tirelessly and without salary worked at Lloyd's motto: "Appalachia's future leaders are here, just waiting to be educated." They started 100 elementary schools throughout eastern Kentucky and, in 1923, they opened Caney Junior College. Lloyd is said to have typed some 60,000 fund-raising appeals and raised some $2.5 million for the college. Still, desperate for money in 1955, the usually publicity-shy Lloyd appeared on the This is Your Life television show. Host Ralph Edwards made a direct fund-raising plea, and money poured in from around the country. "We've still got people on our mailing and donor list who saw the show," says Reed. After Lloyd's death in 1962, dean William Hayes, Lloyd's close associate since the early 1940s, took over as president of the college. Caney Junior College was renamed Alice Lloyd College. In 1980, the college became an accredited four-year institution.

Although it's been nearly 40 years since Lloyd paced the campus paths, her mission and steel-willed, slightly puritanical personality remain the glue that binds Alice Lloyd College together. Streets and lanes named "Purpose," "Character," and "Duty" wind through the college, a melange of buildings young and old clinging to the ravine, from stern stone originals to modern glass and brick structures. Students and faculty alike share a palpable sense of higher purpose that informs everything from the financing of the school to its mandatory work program to financial aid to teaching to students' post-graduation plans. "Teaching here is a professor's dream," says Dorothy Peters, chair of the education division, which graduates more students than any other at the college. Peters came to Alice Lloyd after a long career in education: she served as assistant superintendent of the Frederick County, Virginia, public schools and has taught at several colleges. "We interact constantly with our students on a personal level, much more so than at other colleges. We see ourselves as molders of the future." Or, as Richard, chair of the humanities division and conductor of the Voices of Appalachia choir, puts it: "There's a purity to what we do here."

First and foremost, of course, is the tuition guarantee, a $6,360-per-year value, for any full-time student who comes from one of 100 targeted counties in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee— no matter their parents' incomes. Any student whose family qualifies for a federal Pell Grant (as 51 percent of Alice Lloyd families currently do) can then receive room, board, and fees, valued at $3,040 per year. "Other schools have a handful of kids on scholarships, but here it's the whole school," says Reed. "In a way, if they're from Central Appalachia, it's a birthright."

Of Alice Lloyd's $8 million annual budget, 40 percent goes directly to student aid in the form of grants. The school receives no direct federal, state, or local money, relying instead on the generosity of some 10,000 individuals, corporations, and foundations around the country, many of them first contacted by Lloyd herself. "We're dependent on the free enterprise system," says Siebert, "and fund-raising is something that is constantly on my mind."

"Our school is not tuition driven, it is donor driven," says Reed, "and people enjoy donating to us because we're such good stewards of their money." The college has no debt and no line of credit, and has been in the black for 22 years, despite the addition of new dormitories, a new gymnasium, a library, and a performing arts center.

Working to Learn

From the start, Lloyd believed that work was important, a belief that hasn't been lost. "We like our students to be able to use their hands as well as their heads," says Siebert. As such, all students must work at least 10 hours a week, for which they are paid the minimum wage (which actually goes to the college to help defray the cost of their education). Freshmen are assigned general jobs, from sweeping the cafeteria to cleaning the bathrooms. Upperclassmen are assigned jobs as closely related to their academic fields as possible. Some even become supervisors. "I've given the running of the college to the kids," says student work program director Bob Braden. "I love to see them driving the garbage truck!" The 77,000 hours per semester of student labor not only helps to keep college costs low, but, say officials, also democratizes the student body, gives them a feeling of earning their scholarship money, and makes Alice Lloyd graduates more marketable.

Students seem to agree. "I think you value your education more if you work for it," says Tara Daniels, a senior from Pineville, West Virginia. "I learned computer research skills, editorial skills, responsibility, and commitment," says Nicole Lackey, of her various jobs, from cleaning the gym to being a teaching assistant in the English department to working in the biology labs. "Alice Lloyd is like a family. The teachers I worked for became mentors for me, and are still. There is a lot of pressure in medical school, and knowing you have that emotional support is really special." "I coordinate the schedules of 22 lab workers," says Brad Moore, a senior from McDowell, Kentucky. "Of course, sometimes it seems rough with all of my classes, but I've learned so much about computers and how to manage workers that it's been really valuable." Throughout their years at Alice Lloyd, students receive coursework in leadership and are constantly encouraged to stay in the region after graduation, if they can. Most don't give it a second thought. "If I can get through medical school, I want to work in McDowell [Appalachian Regional] Hospital," says Moore, a pre-med biology major. "My fiancée and I both feel like it would be right to give back in some way and to come back here after graduate school," says Chris Mays, from Ashland, Kentucky.

Graduating from Alice Lloyd College, however, doesn't necessarily mean leaving the school family. Both Alice Lloyd herself and June Buchanan believed it was important to provide the same sort of financial help to graduate students, to "scholarship them on," as the college calls it. Judge Terry Jacobs sometimes sat at June Buchanan's lunch table in the dining hall (wearing a tie, of course), and he remembers Buchanan telling him that he should go to law school and that she would pay the tuition. "We're committed to our students and to stopping the 'brain drain' in Appalachia," says Stephen Reed. Today, Alice Lloyd supports 36 Caney Cottage Scholars, as they're called, who are pursuing graduate degrees in everything from English to law to medicine. "For me, it's a miracle," says Nicole Lackey, of her scholarship to medical school. "Otherwise I'd have to go into debt for the rest of my life, and I wouldn't be able to open a practice in my rural area. I've spent 24 years growing up in Appalachia, and I'd never want to go anywhere else. Alice Lloyd is so enriched by the Appalachian culture, and that just makes you want to stay."

As for Judge Terry Jacobs, he's still got a closet full of ties given to him by June Buchanan, one of which he always kept rolled up in his pocket during his days at Alice Lloyd, should "Miss June," as she was known, summon him to her office or her dining-hall table. Someday, he says, he'll wear them again, "When I accomplish enough to feel worthy."

Carl Hoffman is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.