of Access College Foundation

In 1988, two Norfolk businessmen, both well known for their civic and philanthropic activities, established the Access College Foundation (formerly known as the Tidewater Scholarship Foundation) in order to administer one program, Access.

Frank Batten, Sr. and Joshua P. Darden, Jr. – names well known to education in Virginia – long considered education the key to success and have given generously of their time and resources to make college a reality for thousands of young people in South Hampton Roads.

Frank Batten and Joshua P. Darden

It began with an idea.

The idea for Access began with a story both men read in the New York Times about New York businessman Eugene Lang. In 1981, Mr. Lang adopted a sixth grade class in Harlem and promised to pay for their college education providing that they graduated from high school and were admitted into college. Six years later, over 90% of the students graduated and over half went on to college-a major achievement considering the high school’s 75% dropout projection.

While Mr. Batten and Mr. Darden admired Mr. Lang’s approach, the cost of extending his promise to all students in a school or an entire school system would have been astronomical. After researching similar programs that helped underprivileged children go to college, they learned that hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal, state and local institutional grants and scholarships for colleges were unclaimed by qualified low-income students. In most cases the students and parents were simply unaware that the money existed and they often had no idea how to apply for the funds.

As their research began to focus in this new direction, the Norfolk Superintendent, Dr. Gene Carter, and a few school board members visited the Cleveland Public Schools. While in Cleveland, they were introduced to the Cleveland Scholarship Program. When Dr. Carter returned to Norfolk, he approached Batten and Darden about the Cleveland school-based college access approach and they turned their research toward the Cleveland model.


In May of 1988, a group of concerned citizens including Clifford Cutchins, III, Anne Shumadine, Dr. Lucy Wilson and John O. Wynne came together with Batten, Darden, and Dr. Carter to create an access program based on the Cleveland model. In September 1988, a three-year pilot project entitled Access was born in five Norfolk high schools.

By the following fall, Portsmouth was interested in implementing the program in their high schools. In April 1990, Josh Darden called on Larry I’Anson of the Beazley Foundation to tell him about the Access Program and the hope to bring the program to Portsmouth. In Norfolk and in Access’ expansion cities, there has always been a champion, whether it was an individual, corporation or foundation. The Beazley Foundation became Access’ Portsmouth champion.

They pledged a $1 to $1 matching challenge to the Portsmouth Schools Foundation for support from the Portsmouth business community. This was just the incentive the Portsmouth Schools Foundation needed to revitalize their organization and stimulate fundraising activity. Portsmouth General Hospital Foundation immediately joined the effort. The quick and decisive action by the Portsmouth community allowed Access to step up its expansion schedule and Access opened the doors in Portsmouth in September 1990.

Access expanded into Green Run and Bayside high schools in Virginia Beach in the fall of 1999, thanks to another community supporter. Joan and Macon Brock became Access’ next champions as they offered a matching gift of $500,000 to the Virginia Beach Foundation to raise support for a Virginia Beach Access Program. This gave Access a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with the Virginia Beach City Public Schools and offer more students a chance to go to college.

In 1999, Tidewater Scholarship Foundation was awarded a planning grant from The Educational Resource Institute (TERI) to study the feasibility of adopting the Boston model of a centralized college access center as a means to provide college access services to un-served students in South Hampton Roads. This provided an opportunity for board members and staff to focus on the Access founders’ goal to provide Access services to all public high school students in South Hampton Roads.


The result of the feasibility study was a plan for an Expansion Model that provided intense, directed assistance to seniors one-day per week and research was completed in August 2000. In October 2000, Access piloted the Expansion Model for seniors in Oscar F. Smith and Deep Creek high schools in Chesapeake and the impact was tremendous.

Access compiled statistics from the first Expansion Model year in the summer of 2001 and quickly realized that this was the model ACCESS would take to the 5,300 seniors in South Hampton Roads without Access’ services.

The success of the Chesapeake pilot project gave the board and staff an expansion program model that met Access‘ goal to dramatically impact the college going rate while greatly reducing operating expenses. The Chesapeake model was adopted and transferred into Access‘ 2001-2011 Strategic Plan that was unanimously approved by the board of directors in September 2001. Access now had an expansion program framework that would allow service to students in the remaining 18 high schools in South Hampton Roads.

Wanting to further expand upon the success of the Access Program operating in Chesapeake public schools, several members of the business community came together to raise funds for additional days of service. TowneBank’s lead gift set the course for successful fundraising campaigns in the banner year and in years to follow.

In 2003, Frank and Jane Batten donated $11.2 million to endow one day of services in each of the un-served high schools with a goal to serve every public high school senior in South Hampton Roads by 2005. This paved the way for Access to begin providing services in the three public high schools in Suffolk and to complete expansion in Virginia Beach.

As the Access Program grew over the course of a decade and a half, its presence and reputation grew. When the need for a full-time presence in Suffolk became evident, a number of Suffolk individuals, businesses and organizations banded together to ensure this reality. Birdsong Corporation was one of the first corporate supporters of the Access Program from the city of Suffolk.

In October 2004, the organization’s name changed from Tidewater Scholarship Foundation to Access College Foundation. As far back as 1994, when Old Dominion University’s Graduate School of Business conducted an evaluation of the Access Program, the organization was aware of the confusion caused by two names. The name changed, but the focus and mission of assisting local public school students with their postsecondary educational endeavors remained the same.

Going one step further to ensure that Access Scholars not only attend college, but thrive and persist while there, Access implemented the Access College Success Program in 2007. With this program, Access extended advisory services to Access Scholars attending the colleges and universities where there is the greatest concentration of Access students. This program targets students from the Access Program to assist them in meeting the requirements of remaining in college and graduating within six years.

In 2008, to address the need for early education on postsecondary educational requirements and opportunities, Access implemented its Early College Awareness Program, which employs several early awareness initiatives geared towards middle school students and their parents. This program serves low-income middle schools in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Suffolk.


In 2013, the Access Board of Directors voted unanimously to undertake the major comprehensive College Changes Everything Campaign. Through this campaign, Access was able to expand and deepen its level of services in the four initiatives that form the core of Access services: Early College Awareness Program, Access to Higher Education High School Program, College Success Program, and Last-Dollar Scholarships.

In April of 2015, an expansion of college advisory services to Northampton County on the Eastern Shore was announced. Access began serving students in September 2015, thanks to a $1.6 million investment from an anonymous donor which provided a full-time advisor to serve students from 7th grade to college graduation. An additional $1 million donation from the Batten Educational Achievement Fund of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation provided college scholarships for graduates of Northampton County High School.

In June of 2016, Access announced the completion of the College Changes Everything Campaign.

In January of 2017, Access added a new core program component funded by the Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Grant for two years. Now sustained by the Access budget, the new Career Connection Program extends Access’ College Success Program beyond college graduation by assisting Access college graduates in finding a career in Hampton Roads. This program enables Access to fulfill its promise to support students through college completion and beyond.

During the 2018-19 school year, Access completed all proposed College Changes Everything Campaign goals aimed at expanding and deepening its level of services in the four initiatives that form the core of Access services.

In 2019, thanks to a generous three-year grant from the Obici Healthcare Foundation, Access expanded its services to Western Tidewater school districts. During the grant period, Access served high school seniors in Franklin City, Southampton County, and Surry County to cultivate a college-going culture for students in these communities who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to attend and complete postsecondary education.

In 2020, the pandemic caused a loss in revenue for Access College Foundation. Through a combination of reducing expenses and increasing revenue with our board’s Bridging the Gap Campaign, we created a safety net during this critical time of rebuilding and replacing annual fund donations.

In 2021, for the first time in its history, Access College Foundation was awarded grant funding through the City of Norfolk for general operating expenses needed to run the Access Program in Norfolk Public Schools – supporting Access in continuing to offer vital services to Norfolk students.

In 2022, the City of Norfolk generously renewed their funding, while the cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake also granted funding through COVID relief programs and other funding sources.

2020-Present Day

Over 34 years, the Access College Foundation has helped more than 77,000 students and their families in taking college entrance examinations, applying for financial aid, submitting final applications, and enrolling in college. In the process, $780 million in financial aid and scholarships has been awarded to these students.

Through our Access “Last-Dollar” Scholarship, the Foundation has awarded scholarships to students totaling $14 million. These last-dollar awards bridge the gap between the total amount of aid for which a family qualifies and the final cost of attending college.