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June 29, 2022

SVSU supports rural students’ college success and career preparation with $1.2 million federal grant

Saginaw Valley State University has received a major federal grant that will enable the institution to broaden the scope of services it offers rural students and prepare them for careers in Michigan.

The $1.2 million “Pathways for Rural Student Success at SVSU” grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development Program, will allow for both the expansion of existing programs and the development of new programs related to college readiness and access, student retention and success, and employability. The grant, which will be funded from October 2022 through August 2025, will provide resources to implement the “Pathways” program.

“Student success is a high priority at SVSU, and we have many programs in place to support students and help them overcome obstacles that might interfere with their education,” said Donald Bachand, SVSU president. “With this funding, we can do even more, not only for rural students, but for all students.”

About 70% of SVSU’s students come from rural communities, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Ivy Braden, a 2018 SVSU graduate with a degree in communication, considers herself an anomaly among her high school classmates. The Nashville native attended Maple Valley schools, roughly midway between Lansing, Grand Rapids and Battle Creek. She said she was always encouraged to attend college, but she wasn’t well prepared to navigate the college search and application process, especially completing the FAFSA – the free application for federal student aid. Braden didn’t know many people who could provide practical assistance.

“In my community, there weren’t many people with four-year college degrees, so college wasn’t strongly encouraged and people weren’t familiar with the steps needed to apply to college,” Braden said. “My class was able to attend only one college fair, and even that was intimidating.”

Braden – who now works in SVSU’s Alumni Relations office – added that college may introduce students to career opportunities beyond what they see in their hometowns.

“Rural communities don’t have a wide range of businesses that expose you to different careers,” she said, “and our high school wasn’t able to offer the same kind of career exploration that many of my SVSU classmates had. We took a career interest assessment, but we weren’t provided with the information on what we needed to do to attain those careers.”

Through the “Pathways” program, SVSU intends to provide personnel and structures to bridge these – and other – gaps.                

SVSU’s financial aid and scholarship opportunities, small class sizes, and caring campus culture are often appealing to students.

Jayson Tunstall, an accounting major who graduated from New Lothrop High School, said he and his classmates found SVSU to be a welcoming environment.

“A good 40% of my graduating class was coming here out of high school. They discussed how nice the school was and how they felt at home on their tour,” he said.

With funding from the grant, SVSU intends to build on this welcoming culture, developing and enhancing services to students before, during and even after their college years.

Brian Thomas, SVSU’s associate vice president for academic affairs, said SVSU will direct resources to:

  • improve rates of postsecondary enrollment
  • support students to stay in school and complete degrees
  • develop pathways that lead to high-quality careers, especially those aligned with Michigan’s talent needs.  

While the grant period is for three years, SVSU is committed to continuing its “Pathways” program long into the future, building upon prior work.

“SVSU previously was selected for the Higher Learning Commission’s Student Success Academy, so we have been completing a comprehensive student success plan,” Thomas said. “While the grant is targeted to students from rural communities, we will be better positioned to serve our students from urban communities and other backgrounds too. Students face many common barriers, regardless of where they come from.”

SVSU received the grant from the US Department of Education to support the Pathways for Rural Student Success at SVSU program (P116W220007), assisting rural students by allowing for both the expansion of existing programs and the development of new programs related to college preparedness and access, student retention and success, and employability. Federal funds provide $1,200,000 or 84% of the total project cost, and non-governmental sources provide $223,331 or 16% of the total project cost.