Eden, North Carolina’s Higher Education Initiative

Originally posted on the State of the Re:Union website:

Everyone knows how important education is for the economic prospects of a community or region. But who would have thought that low education attainment levels would lead to a scarcity of supermarkets?

Eden, a town of about 16,000 in Rockingham County, North Carolina, found this out the hard way in 2005, when one of the community’s few groceries closed and the locals got up a petition asking a supermarket chain to open a new store. They already had a site picked out and gathered around 2000 signatures. But the supermarket chain took a pass on Eden. The reason: the percentage of residents with college degrees—about 10.8 percent—was considered too low.

The activists merged with an existing community group to form the Eden Education Foundation, and later, broadening their focus, the Rockingham County Education Foundation. Working with the University of North Carolina, the group brought in two new college counselors to split their time between four county high schools advising kids who had never seen themselves as potential college grads.

It may seem like a small or obvious thing, beefing up the high school counseling program, but it’s not. These days overworked high school counselors spend an average of less than 20 percent of their time advising kids about college, according to one survey, but their help is essential, especially for first generation learners.

At the All-America City Awards in Kansas last June, Eden brought several kids from the local high schools who described how a counselor, named Mr. Woodard, had helped them through the daunting process of applying for college and scholarship money, rallying them, encouraging them, and bugging college admissions offices on their behalf. These were kids whose parents had never gone to college and had no idea what to do. One compared the process of applying to college to being in a foreign country.

I mentioned already that no kids from Eden had applied for college during College Application Week in 2006. A year later it was 22. By 2009, the number increased to 583. In 2010, seniors from the four schools earned more than $17 million in scholarships, an increase of about 44 percent from the year before. Small steps, perhaps, on the road to getting more kids in college.

Eden was one of ten AAC winners in 2010. You can watch their presentation to the AAC jury

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