Southeast Tennessee schools received nearly a quarter of a million dollars in federal grants to improve college access for graduating high school seniors.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman announced the grants, totaling $686,820, last week, saying they were meant to improve the numbers of Tennessee's high school graduates who go to college.
The grants are funded by Tennessee's federal Race to the Top grant. Nine of 66 applicants were selected in the Tennessee College Access and Success Network's inaugural round of funding.
Bradley County Schools received a $167,065 grant -- one of the largest awards -- to create college-planning seminars for high school juniors, offer ACT preparation classes and ACT teacher professional development.
The district also will expand college visits to include parent visits, produce a quarterly career and college newsletter and pay one college application fee for students.
The Educational Opportunity Center at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga received $39,996 under the grant program. The center, primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Education, promotes college access in Hamilton, Marion, Grundy, Sequatchie and Bledsoe counties.
Director Cynthia Long said the center primarily exists to encourage low-income, first-generation students to attend college. She said her employees regularly visit those counties, providing services to homeless students, high school dropouts and adults who never attended college.
"We're looking for the population that often gets overlooked," she said.
The center provides help to about 1,000 prospective students annually with financial aid, admissions, choosing a college and choosing a major. Those services are all free.
Long said she was "elated and overjoyed" to hear of the grant funding last week. The center has had no recent increase in federal funding, though costs have increased, she said, and the grant will help employees make more regular trips to the five counties.
"This $40,000 provides us the additional money we need to meet the demand in our area for college access," she said.
Brainerd High School will use its $9,847 grant to improve equipment in its college resource room. Melissa Brassel, Brainerd's director of counseling, said the school plans to purchase new computers and college prep items such as ACT study guides.
She said the room is outdated and has only one computer.
Brainerd High has the lowest graduation rate of Hamilton County high schools. Last year's graduation rate was 53.1 percent, according to the latest state report card.