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W.Va. Wesleyan thrilled by $10 million federal grant

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — West Virginia Wesleyan College will receive $10 million in federal grant funding, school officials said Thursday in an announcement they called unprecedented.

Last week, U.S. Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin announced the school would be receiving $2 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Strengthening Institutions Program. What they neglected to say, or perhaps didn’t know at the time, was that it was actually $2 million a year over five years.

The funding is part of the Department of Education’s Title III program, and no school in West Virginia or anywhere in the nation has received a full $10 million, Wesleyan President Dr. Pamela Balch said.

The grants typically range from $1 to $2 million per award over a five-year period. However, this was the second year that colleges could request up to $10 million, said Rochelle Long, director of public relations. Last year, only six awards were made ranging from $3-$8 million, she said.

“Nobody has ever received the full $10 million that we’re aware of,” Balch said.

The school initially believed it was receiving only $2 million, as announced by the two U.S. senators. However, upon delving into the specifics of the grant information, school officials began to wonder if that was accurate.

“The more we looked at it, the more we thought what if it meant $10 million over five years?” Balch said. “We started thinking, ‘Is that even possible?'”

After a flurry of phone calls and emails to the Department of Education, the school finally received word.

“My vice president of finance finally got an email back and they said we received the $10 million. I can’t even comprehend it. It’s incredible,” Balch said.

The program helps eligible institutions become self-sufficient and expand their capacity to serve low-income students by providing funds to strengthen academic quality, institutional management and fiscal stability. It will be used to improve strategies for student engagement and success which includes enrollment, retention, persistence and graduation rates for Wesleyan students.

The grant will support initiatives such as improving student services, academic instruction, enhancing faculty development and classroom renovations. Additionally, the grant will also help increase Wesleyan’s endowment.

“This will cover every classroom on campus for upgrades and technology. It will benefit all of our students that need any extra help with tutoring and learning. There are five positions we’re looking at creating with this,” Balch said.

Receiving news of this type is the dream of every college president in the country, Balch said.

“This is truly a transforming award for West Virginia Wesleyan College. Wesleyan, like other colleges across the nation, is seeing a growing percentage of students who need additional academic preparation to succeed,” she said. “We have a large percentage of low-income and first-generation students, and we have found these cohorts to have significant at-risk factors.”

For an institution to be considered for the grant, at least 50 percent of its students must be receiving needs-based assistance under Title IV of the Higher Education Act or have a substantial number of students receiving Federal Pell Grants, and it must have low educational and general expenditures, Long said.

More than half of Wesleyan’s 1,520 students are from West Virginia, and the school has more students receiving West Virginia P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Scholarships than any private college in the state.

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