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 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.