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GVSU receives federal grant to increase number of Kent, Muskegon county residents with college degrees, help fill talent gap

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.

President Philomena V. Mantella said the center fits Grand Valley'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."

headshots of, from left, Donta Truss, President Mantella and Nykia Gaines
From left are Vice President B. Donta Truss, President Philomena V. Mantella and Assistant Vice President Nykia Gaines.
Image Credit: University Communications

Nykia Gaines, assistant vice president for federal TRIO programs, said 850 adults will be served annually 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, adding it is expected to be operational 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," she said.

Services provided to individuals 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 thought 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."

Economic impact

In Kent County, 34 percent of residents age 25 and older have a bachelor's degree or higher; in Muskegon County, that number is 20 percent, based on 2019 statistics. Leaders in economic development and education said this program will help move the area forward out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ken James, director of inclusion for the Grand Rapids Chamber, said the Laker EOC also will 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, praised GVSU's leaders for their commitment to creating opportunities for adults.

"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."