ALLENDALE, Mich. — Grand Valley State University received a new $1.2 million federal grant to help increase the number of adults in Kent and Muskegon counties who pursue post-secondary education or vocational training.
The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education will open the GVSU Laker Educational Opportunity Center, a TRIO program providing financial and academic assistance to adults who want to enter or continue a postsecondary education program, according to a news release Tuesday.
President Philomena V. Mantella says the center fits the university’s mission of lifelong learning and aligns with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s goal of increasing the number of Michiganders who have college degrees.
“The Laker Educational Opportunity Center will help adults in Kent and Muskegon counties break down the barriers to their career success,” Mantella said. “Its impact on West Michigan’s economy will be almost immediate as participants will fill jobs and increase the area’s productivity.”
Nykia Gaines, assistant vice president for federal TRIO programs, said 850 adults will be served every year throughout the grant period.
“Ideal” participants are 19 years old or older, from an underrepresented population and would be first in their families to attend college.
Three staff members will be hired to operate the center, Gaines said, and it is expected to open later this fall.
“We have committed partners in Kent and Muskegon counties who will support us as we recruit individuals and get the word out about the resources the Laker EOC will provide,” Gaines said.
Services provided will include financial literacy training, assistance with postsecondary admission and financial applications, career assessments and field trips to area businesses.
B. Donta Truss, vice president for enrollment development and educational outreach, said this is the eighth TRIO program at Grand Valley.
He said these eight programs create an “astounding” cadre of support for first-generation students in West Michigan and demonstrates that Grand Valley is “highly focused on creating lifetime learning opportunities, empowered education and educational equity.”
“The TRIO programs, starting in middle school, expand access to higher education for people who though it was unattainable,” Truss said. “Staff hired for the Laker EOC will be trained to understand the unique needs of adults and get them on a successful path. This program will be a vital pipeline to opportunity, serving nontraditional adult students and displaced workers.”
In Kent County, 34% of residents age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and in Muskegon County that number is 20%, based on 2019 statistics.
Ken James, director of inclusion for the Grand Rapids Chamber, said the Laker EOC will also help fill the talent gap in Kent County.
“There is no question that the issue of the next decade is talent,” James said. “We are thrilled to learn GVSU has received federal funding to implement programming that will ultimately increase the talent pool for Kent and Muskegon counties. We are confident this will have a long-term impact on how we emerge from the pandemic as a region.”
Dale Nesbary, president of Muskegon Community College, also praised the plan.
“Muskegon Community College and GVSU are committed to providing our region with needed talent, particularly as we move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Nesbary said. “MCC is gratified that Grand Valley has secured substantial federal funding to again lead in this regard.”