State funding to support programs for Pell-eligible students

The State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) has awarded $1.5 million to Radford University to support funding for pilot programs aimed at supporting enrollment and retention for students who are eligible for federal Pell grants.

The initiatives involve creating an enrollment coach program to support additional student connections and the establishment of the Highlander Success Scholarship for students who find themselves unable to enroll at Radford because of financial constraints.

“Over the past year, Radford University has made an unprecedented commitment to affordability and access for students through the Radford Tuition Promise. We thank SCHEV for this impactful grant which complements our institution’s efforts,” said Radford University President Bret Danilowicz. “By closing funding gaps for Pell-eligible students, the Highlander Success Scholarship will allow them to confidently make progress toward degree completion. The peer coaching component is just as important. Students who experience a sense of belonging and community are more likely to remain at the university. We are proud to offer enhanced outreach to ensure that Pell-eligible students have their needs met and are pleased to create meaningful work-based learning opportunities for our new team of student enrollment coaches.”


These plans will allow Radford University “to pilot and ultimately implement programs that will grow access to higher education,” said Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management and Director of Financial Aid Allison Pratt. “The funding will solidify Radford University’s ability to implement best practices in peer-mentorship coupled with using gap funding to support our neediest population.”

Radford’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions works to connect with every Virginia high school to allow students to learn about unique opportunities and educational experiences at Radford University. In the fall of 2022, admissions staff visited more than 300 high schools in the commonwealth. Twenty percent of those schools were identified as targets for the Pell grant.

“Our goal is to provide a transformational education for all students, and we are uniquely positioned to provide the support Pell students need with our experiential learning opportunities, student support services and small class sizes,” said Pratt, touting Radford’s 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, which allows for individual connections between student and teacher.

The enrollment coach pilot program is designed for current Radford undergraduate students to assist incoming students and ultimately expand to include support for first-year Highlanders. Student coaches will work closely with Division of Enrollment Management staff members to help incoming students complete the necessary steps to begin their higher education journey at Radford.

The focus of the program will be to support Pell-eligible applicants while also creating experiential learning opportunities for current students who are considering careers in higher education. The enrollment coach program will give those students an opportunity to earn funds to support their educational experiences. A goal for the future of the program is to increase the number of Radford graduates who enroll in one of the university’s many graduate programs or kick-start their careers through working on campus.

The enrollment program will be implemented in three phases, beginning with enrollment coaches working in year one with Radford enrollment management professionals, April through September, to support Pell-eligible students who have chosen to attend Radford. In year two, about 16 coaches will be individually assigned to work with Radford admissions staff as students are admitted. In the third year, Coaches will be employed to work with first-year Pell-eligible students through their first semester and begin working with prospective Radford students the following January.

Currently, 37% of Radford undergraduate students are eligible for the Pell grant.

The Highlander Success Scholarship program aims to support continued enrollment for students who are unable to re-enroll because of financial constraints. The scholarship would award an additional $500 to $1,000 to Pell-eligible students who lost gift aid between their first and second years at Radford, helping reduce the financial gap students may see as a barrier to continued enrollment.

“We know that a financial barrier of as little as $100 can prevent a student from returning to the institution,” Pratt said. “Additionally, we see more than 50% of our students not meet one of the renewal criteria for the Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program (VGAP) and, in turn, lose some level of financial aid support between the first and second year of enrollment.”

Measuring the success of the scholarship program would be determined by a minimum 2% increase in Radford’s fall-to-spring retention rate among Pell-eligible first-year students.

Radford received additional funding from SCHEV in December to expand its Highlander Research Rookies program, which couples students with a faculty mentor to work for three semesters on a research project. Pell eligible students will engage in creative work opportunities, about five to six hours a week, that build their fundamental research skills. Students receive a $1,000 stipend for each semester of participation. When the work concludes, each student presents their research methods and findings to the university at the annual Student Engagement Forum.

“The students participating in the experience gain valuable research skills, develop meaningful faculty relationships and have opportunities to connect with students from across disciplines,” explained, Joe Wirgau, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research & Scholarship.

University data shows Pell-eligible students often do not participate in Radford’s most supportive research programs, including Highlander Research Rookies. “Our intention with the additional funding is to strategically grow, over the next three years, the number of Pell-eligible students participating in Highlander Research Rookies.”

“These students will feel supported at every step of their academic journey as a result of these funds,” Pratt said.

Feb 2, 2024
Chad Osborne
(540) 831-7761