BIG STONE GAP - Mountain Empire Community College and the University of Virginia's College at Wise will forge a scholarship/transfer pact today that will make the pursuit of a higher education for many area students more accessible.
UVa-Wise Chancellor David J. Prior and MECC President Terrance Suarez will sign the agreement at 11:30 a.m. in the boardroom of MECC's Dalton-Cantrell Hall.
MECC has been a participating institution in the Appalachia Inter-Mountain Scholars (AIMS Higher) program for a number of years. The agreement between the two colleges will enable AIMS Higher scholarship recipients to transfer to UVa-Wise after completing their first two years of study at MECC.
AIMS Higher provides eligible students with sufficient scholarship assistance to complete a two-year degree at MECC without any out-of-pocket costs for tuition and fees.
To qualify, students must fulfill certain rigorous academic, attendance and community service requirements while in high school. They include maintaining a C average or better in each of the 17 approved high school courses, a 95 percent attendance rate, no out-of-school suspensions, and completion of 20 hours of community service.
AIMS Higher is a "last dollars" program that kicks in after all other forms of aid are exhausted. MECC's AIMS Higher program was established in 2002 with a $250,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
Suarez recently informed the Wise County Board of Supervisors that, as of the fall of 2006, 276 students enrolled at MECC were participants in the program with just 50, or only 18 percent, from Wise County. Suarez told supervisors the college wanted a more lively participation by Wise County students in the future. The new agreement to be signed with UVa-Wise today should get the county school division's attention.
At the time, Suarez said Scott County students are more represented in AIMS Higher because that county has offered the program in its school division for several years. The program was installed in Scott County thanks to sponsorship at that time by Eastman Chemical Co..
Wise County's school division does not administer a formal AIMS program as does Scott County, MECC officials said, but the college has been active at recognizing Wise County students eligible for the assistance, accounting for the 50 Wise Countians receiving AIMS Higher assistance at the college last fall.