The unprecedented moments of the past year and this current one have led some to focus mostly on the negative.
However, it may be fair to say that for the Greenville community, things are looking up when it comes to educational advancement.
Tuesday morning, Mayor Errick Simmons announced on the steps of the Greenville City Hall that Mississippi’s first formalized college access network is being launched in the Port City – Greenville College Access Network (GCAN).
“It is critical moments in history like these where the decision to invest in the future of our city is paramount,” Simmons said to attendees.
GCAN is a community-based college access network to address college access and success for students in Greenville.
Joining Simmons for the announcement were Dr. Alfred Rankins, Jr., commissioner of the Institution of Higher Education for the state of Mississippi, Dr. Carol White, assistant professor, Community College Leadership at Mississippi State University Department of Educational Leadership and Ann Hendrix with Get2College and the Woodward Hines Foundation.
White said when she went to the Mayor’s office about the AmeriCorps project about four years ago, she was “met with great enthusiasm,” especially from Simmons.
“He liked the idea that we could create places within the community to help Greenville residents get to college. It’s hard for many people to navigate college paperwork and we know that college is very important for everyone to get a job but it can be complicated,” White shared. “The Woodward Hines’ Get2College program does an excellent job in high schools and the school counselors also do an excellent job in high schools but sometimes people need just a little more help outside that environment and that’s where GCAN comes in.”
She described the makeup of GCAN essentially as neighbors helping neighbors and the community collaborating through service to build trusted places across the city where people can get help filling out college applications and acquiring funds through financial aid applications.
For the past three years, White has worked alongside the Woodward Hines Foundation, Simmons, councilwoman Lois Hawkins, key community members, high schoolers and college students to ask and answer the question — “How do we help people with getting college information in community sites?”
“We’re starting small, but I believe the sites will expand as time goes on and we’ll add services and I hope we can look back as the mayor projected and we can say, “Out of this small beginning came a great thing,”” she said.
White’s program officer, Melissa Gouge at the office of research and evaluation in the AmeriCorps program who could not be in attendance said in a statement, “We’re truly delighted that the community has chosen to take the Greenville College Access Network. This cohort of grants came about to fund community members working together to conduct research to tackle real world issues and then to take actions to solve them. Greenville is the first community that has carried out a project and has their mayor stand behind the research-based action.”
Gouge added, “We are so pleased to have played a role in this effort. We are also excited about the prospect of future conversations with you all, with the mayor and Dr. White and others to match our national programs to the community’s needs. Our hats are off to you and the community for taking this important step to ensure all high schoolers and adults in Greenville have opportunities to get to college and the best is yet to come.”
Hendrix highlighted the collective efforts of the Woodward Hines Foundation, city officials and community members to establish the foundation to build a network across the state with other mayors and the director of Get2College.
“Our mission is to help students get to college and through college,” she said, adding that Get2College helps students individually and also provides training for educators and volunteers. “Last year due to the pandemic, FAFSA completion was down and college enrollment was down.This year FAFSA completion is down even more — 11% across the state, 39% in the City of Greenville. We have work to do, but we can get it done.”
She also noted the work of Hawkins and community members Maple Smith and Shelia Watson to make GCAN a reality for Greenville.
Rankins, a Greenville native, talked about the significance of GCAN and educational advancement opportunities to the Greenville community.
“This partnership involving the city and local educational institutions and nonprofit organizations is so critical to advancing this community and the citizens. You can’t do things big without sponsors to help you along the way,” he said, acknowledging the Woodward Hines Foundation. “This foundation has worked very closely with my office and other educational institutions across the state to help Mississippi set a statewide education attainment goal of 60% of adults aged 25 to 64 to have some credential of value past high school by the year 2024.”
“Access to higher educational opportunities is the bridge to a skilled workforce, personal success, economic development, higher earnings and overall improved quality of life for the citizens of Greenville.”
Rankins pointed out the commonality of everyone, whether a young or adult learner, having the desire or aspiration of becoming successful at something.
“But the question is how do you achieve that level of success you so desire? How do you get there?” he posed to the audience.
The answer, Rankins said, is direction or essentially, a guide; and that guide is education.
He noted his educational foundation being established in the Greenville Public School system and receiving a “great education.”
Rankins added, “A quality education can take you where you want to be and it is the solution to the socio economic ills that we struggle with in our community…it’s the key to moving this community forward. Poverty, health disparities and decline in tax bases are all linked to educational attainment.”