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Gadsden State awarded grant to open Educational Opportunity Center

Gadsden, Ala. – Gadsden State Community College has been notified by the U.S. Department of Education that a $232,500 grant has been awarded to create the Cheaha Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) Project, which will serve four counties, including Calhoun, Cherokee, Cleburne and Etowah. The Cheaha EOC Project is a federal TRIO program. TRIO programs are federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals with disadvantaged backgrounds.

“The Educational Opportunity Center will provide opportunities for academic development, and it will assist students with applying for college enrollment and financial aid,” said Pam Johnson, dean of Institutional Effectiveness, Grants and Special Projects. “It will also serve to motivate students toward the successful completion of their high school equivalency and their postsecondary education.”

The EOC will provide academic tutoring; advice and assistance in course selection; assistance in preparing for college entrance exams; help in completing college admissions application; assistance in applying for financial aid; guidance on secondary school re-entry or entry to a general education development (GED) program; career workshops and counseling; academic counseling and financial literacy seminars.

“The goal of the Cheaha EOC Project is to increase the number of adult participants who enroll in college,” she said. “We will work closely with Adult Education Services to get adult learners into college. We want to help them earn a credential that can be used to improve their employability chances.”

According to the recent Census, the East Alabama region to be served by the EOC has a population that’s 43.2 percent low income. In addition, 16.5 percent have educational attainment below a high school diploma, and 82.9 percent are below the baccalaureate degree.

“Our area has a large pool of low-income and potential first-generation college students to be served,” Johnson said.

The EOC will assist in removing two barriers that sometimes stand in the way of adult learners enrolling in college.

“We are going to help them apply for financial aid and apply to their college of interest,” Johnson said. “It can be intimidating but we are here to help with the process.

“We will give them the momentum they need to actually continue their education,” she said. “A lot of first-generation students don’t have someone who can help them with the preliminary stages of college enrollment much less give them assistance once they are in their course of study. We are here to give them that support.”

Johnson said the EOC will assist in meeting Governor Kay Ivey’s Success Plus Initiative, in which she plans to grow a skilled-labor pipeline by 500,000 workforce-ready employees by 2025.

“If we are going to meet the governor’s goal, we have to hire people out of the adult population,” Johnson said. “We need to motivate adults to get training for the many high-wage, high-demand jobs available in our state.”

Gadsden State’s EOC Project will serve up to 850 eligible participants each year during the grant’s first lifecycle of five years. Funds will be used to hire a director, who will be headquartered at the Wallace Drive Campus and will serve students in Etowah County, as well as two full-time outreach advisors. One advisor will be headquartered at the Ayers Campus to serve students in Calhoun and Cleburne counties while the second advisor will be at Gadsden State Cherokee.  Students interested in the program are encouraged to email for information. Advisors will begin recruiting in the community in mid-November.

The EOC is one of seven TRIO programs at Gadsden State, which has two Upward Bound programs, two Talent Search programs, Student Support Services and a Veterans Upward Bound program. Gadsden State is one of only two community colleges with an EOC in the state of Alabama.

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