Montgomery County school officials are joining together in a new program designed to get more local students to attend and graduate from college.
The Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success program is a collaboration among Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove. The program unveiled Thursday will focus on minority and low-income students who have traditionally been underrepresented in higher education.
"We started planning last fall, and we're delivering this fall," said Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard. "The county demography is changing, and it's going to take us coming together to shift the dialogue and to really create opportunities. It's been a journey of love, but it's also been a journey of necessity."
The county's population added nearly 100,000 people from 2000 to 2010, with a 39.3 percent increase in its minority population, according to the county Planning Department.
Nearly 60 percent of MCPS graduates who stay in Maryland for college attend Montgomery College within the following year. However, of that 60 percent, just 20 percent receive their associate's degree or certificate from the college within three years of high school graduation.
Students will be selected between eighth and ninth grades for the program and will receive an individualized four-year college preparation plan that includes tutoring, ACT and SAT preparation help, and college visits, among other services. Starting in their junior year, students will be assigned an academic coach from the college that will help with college preparation tasks such as advising, applications and scholarship search assistance.
Organizers looked to model ACES after the Pathway to the Baccalaureate Program at Northern Virginia Community College, where program participants are twice as likely to graduate with an associate's degree than the average NVCC student.
A study by the New America Foundation in 2010 found that Pathway students are outperforming their peers on measures of retention, grade-point average and graduation rates.
"I think we'll start to see students come to college better-prepared academically and socially, I think we're going to see a community conversation about college success, and I think we're going to see a consciousness about making sure we have enough workers for the economic future we want to have in this county," Pollard said.
An anonymous donor at the Community Foundation for Montgomery County is providing an initial $10,000 to the new ACES scholarship general fund through the Montgomery College Foundation.
Montgomery College Student Council Chairwoman Gabriela Rodriguez has been attending classes at the college for six years and said that if ACES had been around when she began college, it probably wouldn't have taken her so long.
"This program has a lot of benefits for the population that is being targeted," Rodriguez said. "If the students come from immigrant families, the parents often don't really know how the processes to apply to school work. This program will take the students by the hand and lead them on the right path, and it's going to be a lot easier for them."