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Development and Progress of the Appalachian Higher Education Network


The Ohio Board of Regents realized in the early 1990s that they had a problem. While 80 percent of the high school seniors surveyed in Appalachian Ohio indicated that they wanted to go to college, only about one-third did. (From Tim Crowther, Dewey Lykins, and Karen Spohn, "Report of the Appalachian Access and Success Project to the Ohio Board of Regents," Athens/Portsmouth: Institute for Local Government Administration and Rural Development, Ohio University/Shawnee State University, 1992. At the time, the statewide college-going rate was close to 54 percent. Spurred by regent and restaurateur Bob Evans, a long-time resident of the region, the board formed a consortium of two- and four-year colleges and universities in the region to investigate the problem. The consortium, funded at $100,000 by the Ohio Board of Regents for two years, initiated the Access and Success Project. The first phase of the project, completed in 1993, was to conduct research to determine why such a discrepancy existed in the college-going rates between the state as a whole and the Appalachian portion of the state.

Initial Study

The Appalachian Access and Success Project identified several significant barriers to greater participation in higher education in Appalachian Ohio, which can be summarized as:

  • Lack of information and misinformation
  • Lack of informed guidance and assistance
  • Lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem
  • Lack of encouragement
  • Lack of academic preparation

While the financial burden of participating in higher education is a primary concern for students and their families, the report noted that most of the high school students greatly overestimated the cost of attending postsecondary education. Furthermore, both parents and students indicated a lack of knowledge about financial opportunities and the process of applying for aid. Surveys of older, "non-traditional" students in college also indicated that high schools had not done an adequate job of informing the students about the need for continuing their education and what it would mean for their careers.

Parents surveyed by the project indicated that they would like their children to attend college, but most of the parents themselves had not. The process of selecting a college, applying to the school and for financial assistance, and making the transition from high school to college is a very complex and difficult one. Many of the parents, not having had the personal experience themselves, may not have been able to provide the level of assistance needed.

When surveyed, only a very small portion of Appalachian Ohio high school seniors felt themselves to be of above average intelligence. One-quarter of the seniors rated themselves as not intelligent enough to be successful in college and another quarter thought that their poor school grades would be a barrier to attending college. This poor self-image and low self-esteem likely comes, at least in part, from not having their potential to succeed recognized.

Given the low level of participation in higher education in the region, the students most likely did not have any role models to follow or other sources of encouragement. At the time of the report, most of the high school seniors from Appalachian Ohio would have been the first in their families to go to college and many would have been among the first in their communities. The students did not have anybody to tell them stories about campus life, to demonstrate the benefits of continuing their education or to show them that they too could handle it.

Finally, many students in the survey reported not having taken a college-preparatory curriculum. Whether this was due to a lack of encouragement—or pushing—from teachers to take higher level courses, a lack of resources in the mostly rural, low-income schools to offer more academically challenging curricula, or a combination of both is not known. Nontraditional college students who participated in the survey were particularly critical of their schools and lack of academic preparation.

Common Elements of Effective Programs

"The programs that appeared to be most effective [at increasing the college-going rate] had the following elements in common:
  • Providing a key person who monitors and guides the student over a long period of time—a 'mentor,' program director, faculty member, or guidance counselor….
  • Providing high-quality instruction through access to the most challenging courses offered by the school ('untracking'), through special coursework that supports and augments the regular curricular offerings (tutoring and specially designed classes), or by revamping the curriculum to better address the learning needs of the students.
  • Making long-term investments in students rather than short-term interventions. The longer students were in the program, the more likely they were reported to benefit from it.
  • Paying attention to the cultural background of students… [I]t is likely the background and expertise of the staff and directors helped them to make cultural connections with students.
  • Providing a peer group that supports students' academic aspirations as well as giving them social and emotional support.
  • Providing financial assistance and incentives. Financial assistance is important for access to academic leveling experiences—college visits and SAT preparation courses—as well as monetary support to make college a realistic possibility for some students. . . ."

Patricia Gandara and Deborah Bial. (September 2001). 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. National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. Available at page 9.


Formation of Ohio Appalachian Center for Higher Education

These barriers remained "remarkably consistent" across all groups in the survey. Identification of the barriers by the Access and Success Project presented the Ohio Board of Regents with an opportunity: address and eliminate them. Thus the Ohio General Assembly established the Ohio Appalachian Center for Higher Education (OACHE) ( under the leadership of Wayne White, a retired school superintendent and native of the region. OACHE, run by the same consortium of two- and four-year institutions of higher education that conducted the "Access and Success" study, began operating in 1993. The program offers competitive grants of $5,000-$10,000 to high schools in Appalachian Ohio and has recently begun funding middle and elementary schools to get their students thinking about college as well. These grants, supported by training and technical assistance from OACHE, provide the funds for the schools to sponsor college visits, mentoring programs, career exploration, and assistance in identifying and applying to colleges. The OACHE mission is to get the students to continue their education beyond high school, whether at a technical school, two-year college, or four-year college—it does not matter where the students go.

Model Program

Newcomerstown High School in Tuscarawas County was one of the first applicants in 1993. Pat Cadle, a guidance counselor at Newcomerstown developed what is now called the "model program". Using this program, Newcomerstown High School increased its college-going rate from 28 percent to 72 percent in only three years. The model has been successfully replicated in numerous other schools including Southern Local High School in Meigs County, Ohio, where the college-going rate exceeded 90 percent in 2001. The model is built on involving the total school, not just selected students or teachers, infusing career exploration throughout the curriculum, and holding monthly parent meetings. Parents are provided training on how to help their children select and apply to colleges, and apply for financial aid. Students learn about career options, take interest and ability tests, travel to worksites and college campuses, and meet with current college students and successful adults who have completed a degree or certificate program.

Schools applying for an OACHE grant may submit a proposal based on the model program or an "innovative" program. By submitting a model proposal, schools are committing to implement all of its components and timeline. An innovative proposal may use some or all of the components with adjustments to the timeline as necessary and add components to meet the unique needs of that school.

OACHE is currently funded by the Ohio General Assembly and receives numerous grants and gifts from other governmental agencies, foundations, private corporations and individuals. In May 2001, the Public Employees Roundtable named OACHE top public-service initiative in the State category. In May 2003, OACHE received the prestigious 2003 "Innovations in American Government" Award from the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government. To date, OACHE has given over $1 million to 61 schools in Appalachian Ohio. While not all of the schools have seen a tripling of their college-going rates, most have been extraordinarily successful. (See Table II for pre- and post-intervention college-going rates of high schools funded by AHE Network centers in 2002–2003.)

"The key to the success of the model program has been total school buy-in with all of the teachers and administrators participating and having ownership."
Wayne White, Executive Director, OACHE


First Replication: West Virginia Access Center For Higher Education

In 1998, the Community Colleges of Appalachia, an association of two-year colleges in the Appalachian region, approached ARC about replicating OACHE. The Community Colleges of Appalachia had heard from its Ohio members about the success OACHE was having and knew the importance of raising the levels of educational attainment to the region. With $144,000, including $35,000 from ARC, and training from Wayne White of OACHE, the North Central Appalachian Center for Higher Education (NCACHE) opened at Bluefield State College. NCACHE, directed by Sarita Gattuso, a native of McDowell County, West Virginia, was to serve the entire state of West Virginia and the three western counties that make up Appalachian Maryland. Opening its doors on September 1, 1998, NCACHE had the additional mission of proving the replicability of OACHE.

Following the OACHE model, NCACHE issued a request for proposals (RFP) in West Virginia and Appalachian Maryland. That first year, NCACHE awarded $10,000 to each of six schools in West Virginia. (Schools in Maryland chose not to apply for this funding.) The following year, NCACHE sent an RFP to 135 high schools, received 18 proposals, and made eight new awards. With training and mentoring from White and assistance from the Community Colleges of Appalachia and ARC, Gattuso and NCACHE appeared to be off to a good start. ARC thus provided a second year of funding at $35,000.

In 2000, "because of the tremendous critical need in West Virginia and the enthusiasm of schools in that state," NCACHE shifted its focus entirely to West Virginia and was renamed the West Virginia Access Center for Higher Education (WVACHE). ( With the support of Bluefield State College, Gattuso established WVACHE as a tax-exempt corporation to allow it to solicit donations and apply for a wider variety of funding. Sizable grants from Bob and Jewell Evans ($150,000) and the Benedum Foundation ($110,000) have been major sources of funding since.

"Students are making better-quality decisions. They are researching their options, getting more financial aid information, allowing more to attend private schools."
Richard Duffield, Counselor, Valley High School, Pine Grove, West Virginia.


West Virginia Results

WVACHE soon proved both its worth and the replicability of OACHE. Wirt County High School, one of the first to be funded, increased its college-going rate from 47 percent to 72 percent in just two years. Other high schools were seeing similar success rates. (See Table II for all pre- and post-intervention college-going rates of currently funded high schools.) Since opening its doors, WVACHE has provided over $290,000 to 17 schools throughout West Virginia.