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2017 Virginia College Access Resource Study

Almost 1 in 3 school divisions need more resources, study shows

Almost a third of Virginia’s school divisions need more college advising resources, according to a study from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Of 131 divisions, 40 were found in need of resources; of those, 11 were found to be in high need.

SCHEV commissioned the statewide survey, which reviewed organizations that work to help the Commonwealth’s students continue their education after high school. It updates a similar 2009 review of such organizations.

All of Virginia’s 131 school divisions were classified by need for postsecondary access resources, based on levels of economic disadvantage and the rate at which students continued their education after high school.

  • 40 divisions fell into the quartile of high or recognized need.
  • 11 of the 40 divisions are classified as “high need.”
  • More than half (24) of the 40 also showed high or recognized need in one or both available data from 2014 and 2011. These divisions may show “persistent need,” and are identified by asterisks in the figure below.

College access resources such as advisers and materials can help students overcome financial, logistical and social barriers to continuing their education after high school. This can be particularly important for minority or low-income students as well as those who would be the first in their families to attend college.

The median number of organizations providing access services per school division was five (the mean was 5.8). Three school divisions were not served by any access group or organization (Mathews County, Poquoson City and West Point); by contrast, 10 divisions received services from 11 or more organizations, with a per-division high of 29 in the City of Richmond.

Chart of school divisions with most need of access services in Virginia
Underrepresented students may benefit from resources that help them understand the college-preparation process and timeline; complete their applications for college, FAFSA and scholarships; visit colleges; connect with mentors and advisors; and identify other resources to ease the transition to postsecondary education and training. 

The study documents both the need for such postsecondary access resources in Virginia and the services provided by existing postsecondary access organizations across the state to help address that need. It also identifies the challenges in the work and provides recommendations for improvement. 


Lack of funds and staff were the major challenges identified. These constraints frequently limited the reach and the breadth of services offered, as well as the ability to provide individualized student support. Other challenges:

  • Lack of time with or access to students during the school day.
  • Transportation challenges.
  • Difficulty in reaching families.
  • Students’ or families’ lack of appreciation for the value of postsecondary education.


  1. Expand support for early awareness and aspirations, specifically in kindergarten through fifth grade.
    • Most organizations concentrated on students in high school: 79% worked with ninth-graders, while 90% served 12th- graders.
    • Middle school efforts were somewhat fewer: a total of 58% served students in grades six to eight, but only 21% served students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
    • In 2009, 52% of providers reported a focus on students in sixth through eighth grades, and 16% focused on students in kindergarten through fifth.
  2. Enhance efforts to involve parents.
    • Forty-seven percent of surveyed organizations reported that encouraging college awareness and aspirations among parents was a primary focus.
    • In 2009, 27% reported that parental programs were a primary emphasis.
  3. Expand support for SAT/ACT test preparation and knowledge about the role of testing in admissions. Despite the availability of more test prep online resources, current research identifies this as an important area where support is relatively low, not only in test preparation services, but also in avenues for staff to stay current and knowledgeable about testing policies, as it relates to individual college admissions requirements. Almost three-quarters of organizations provided at least some support for test preparation, compared to less than half in 2009.
  4. Expand communication and cooperation between access providers and schools, institutions of higher education, businesses and other community organizations to help address service gaps and challenges.Study results suggest that access organizations may benefit from additional support or resources in several service areas: SAT/ACT test preparation, the financial aid application process and/or financial literacy, and opportunities for student exposure to postsecondary institutions, especially those beyond the local area.
  5. Expand communication within the postsecondary access community. Relatively few respondents reported having consistent opportunities to interact with others in the access community beyond their immediate partners, or to coordinate efforts with other providers
  6. Expand the use of data to inform program development and resource allocation.Forty-five percent reported systematically tracking program participant outcomes; fewer track postsecondary completion.

SCHEV values honesty, quality, diversity, inclusion, growth-orientation, personal well-being, equity, transparency and accountability.
Through these values, we create a welcoming work environment that represents the best of who we are as an agency and as individuals.

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