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Development and Progress of the Appalachian Higher Education Network


ARC closely watched the early successes of both OACHE and WVACHE. Having demonstrated the replicability of the OACHE model of seeding college access projects, ARC started the Appalachian Higher Education (AHE) Network in 2000. The mission of the AHE Network is to raise the levels of educational attainment in the Region.

At the Governors' Quorum Meeting on February 27, 2000, the Appalachian Regional Commission approved the establishment of Appalachian Higher Education Network centers throughout the Region focusing on the economically distressed counties. Up to four centers were approved for funding of $50,000 per year for two years; the centers would be supported with training and mentoring by White and Gattuso. ARC approved $200,000 for the first year, which was to be a "challenge grant," with additional funding to be sought from other sources both public and private.

AHE Network Centers address emotional and social barriers to college. This strategy is based on research conducted in Ohio by the Appalachian Access and Success Project and supported by studies around the country, including the work of the Harvard University College Opportunity And Career Help (COACH) program (see for program details); Expanding College Access, Strengthening Schools: Evaluation of the GE College Bound Program (from Lawrence Neil Bailis, Alan Melchior, Andrew Sokatch and Annabel, Sheinberg. January 2000. Center for Human Resources, Heller Graduate School, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts. Available at:; Paving the Way to Postsecondary Education: K-12 Intervention Programs for Underrepresented Youth (report of the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative Working Group on Access to Postsecondary Education. Patricia Gandara and Deborah Bial. September 2001. National Center for Education Statistics. Available at; and "Who Should We Help? The Negative Social Consequences of Merit Scholarships" (Civil Rights Project of Harvard University, August 23, 2002, Donald E. Heller and Patricia Marin, editors. Available at:

Increased levels of financial aid alone are not sufficient to raise college-going rates in economically distressed communities. Programs must be developed that help students realize that higher education is a realistic option for them and that it can open the door to far more opportunities. Typical activities funded by AHE Network grants to high schools include but are not limited to the following:

  • campus visits to colleges, universities, and technical schools;
  • parental involvement pertaining to college selection, costs, and financial aid;
  • active participation in college and career fairs;
  • career exploration and investigation;
  • motivational speeches by college students;
  • teacher and staff visits to schools and industry;
  • networking with business alliances and partnerships; and
  • guest speeches by respected, well-known, successful adults who have overcome barriers to post-secondary education.

The centers provide funding, training, and assistance in implementing programs to high schools in their service areas. They hold annual or more frequent meetings of high school grantees and help individual schools build the capacity to maintain their programs beyond the life of the grant. Preintervention college-going rates at participating high schools are often as low as 30 or 35 percent with some considerably lower. (See Table II.) Upon initial implementation of the Access Projects, high schools typically see 50 percent or more of their students going on to college. After two to three years of implementation, the college-going rate is consistently at a par with the national average of 63.3 percent and frequently 70 percent or higher.

COACH Mission Similar to AHE Network
"COACH empowers Boston Public School students to make informed decisions about their futures. Harvard students work in the schools to provide information and instruction on how to navigate the college application and financial aid process. We encourage students to explore educational opportunities as they develop and pursue long-term career goals."
From the COACH Web site


Forming the Network

In April 2000, ARC issued an RFP for new centers. The competition was open to all "institutions or agencies with demonstrated ability to operate and manage grant funds," (Request for Proposals by the Appalachian Regional Commission for Appalachian Higher Education Network Centers, April 28, 2000.) except for high schools, local education agencies, and for profit businesses. (Restrictions were due to a statutory prohibition against making grants to for-profit enterprises and to avoid any conflict of interest between ARC's grantee and subgrantees.) To help assure local ownership, each $50,000 grant was to be matched at least one- or two-for-one. The centers were to be faithful replications of OACHE and WVACHE and would work closely with high schools, community groups, other agencies, and the institutions of higher education that most frequently receive students from their self-defined regions. The RFP required that contracts be awarded to those entities that had the most viable plans and that would serve "a predominance of high schools in [economically] distressed counties (as designated by the Commission)." (Given the diversity of the Region and its school systems, ARC wanted to ensure that all distressed counties would have equal opportunity, regardless of student population or the number of schools.)

ARC received five proposals. Gattuso, White, Nancy Brooks Smith, Appalachian Regional Commission Liaison Office, US Department of Education, and Jeffrey H. Schwartz of the ARC Education Program reviewed the proposals and recommended to ARC federal and state co-chairs funding two of them. Centers were thus established in Kentucky and Alabama.

Having been authorized by the governors and federal co-chair to fund up to four centers, ARC released a second RFP in January 2001, and intensified its search for a funding partner. While two very strong proposals were received, one from Mississippi and one from Tennessee, without additional funding only one of them could be funded. In September 2001 the site in Mississippi was funded. The Mississippi site was funded first as it proposed to serve a greater number of economically distressed counties. ARC sought and, in February 2002, received a grant of $75,000 from the W. K. Kellogg foundation to support the two centers in Mississippi and Tennessee. Thus, the Tennessee center was funded and became operational in June of 2002.

As a part of its Distressed Counties Program, ARC again appropriated funding for the AHE Network in fiscal year 2003. Thus a third solicitation of centers was issued in May 2003. Both proposals, one from North Carolina and one from Virginia, were strong. Both were funded and the centers began operating in September of 2003.

Currently, AHE centers operate in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Figure 3 shows the service areas of the eight centers.