ROANOKE, Va. – When Virginia Western first started the Community College Access Program back in 2008, it began as a pilot program only offered for students at Salem High School. Now, nearly 10 years later it's a program that has expanded to students throughout the region.
Graduating seniors from Botetourt, Craig, Franklin and Roanoke counties, as well as Roanoke City, are all eligible for the free tuition program as well.
CCAP divides free tuition for up to three years for students who meet the requirements and are accepted into the program. Each year Virginia Western sees more and more students taking advantage of the offer.
As of this semester, more than 2,200 students have earned free tuition, eliminating more than $4 million in student debt in the Roanoke Valley.
The program is funded by federal and state grants, as well as local donors.
It's a program that continues to make the community college a more desirable option for graduating seniors and their families.
"Virginia Western is a quarter of the cost of a four-year institution, so the opportunity to come here and work on transfer credits is enormous to begin with," says Amanda Mansfield, the donor relations coordinator with the VWCC Educational Foundation. "But to be able to relieve that burden entirely before going on, it makes all the difference to a family."
It's a program Olivia Nepper, who graduated from Cave Spring High School in 2016, says she knew she wanted to do. She wants to work in special education, and at Virginia Western she's getting her general education in early teaching classes done now, before she transfers to JMU or Radford to finish her degree.
"I'm able to stay home, which is a blessing. I'm able to work more and save up for when I do transfer instead of having to worry about paying tuition now," says Nepper.
She says saving that money on tuition and boarding now is making it much easier to save up the money she will need for education later, including the cost to pursue a master's degree.
One of the biggest focus is for the program is making it more accessible for college students and their families. For the first time this year, students interested in the program can get information sent straight to their phones, including details on upcoming meetings, application deadlines and other important information.
Tuesday night marks the first informational meeting for students and families interested in applying for the 2018 CCAP program. For more details, click here.