In recent years, college officials in West Virginia had noticed a problem: Students were applying for financial aid without actually applying to college.
"Students in West Virginia and around the country were showing up at February financial aid workshops . . . but hadn't yet submitted a college application or even started narrowing their options for postsecondary study," said Jessica Kennedy, spokeswoman for the Higher Education Policy Commission, in an email.
After noticing this problem, Kennedy said West Virginia and other states started a pilot program to encourage students to research further educational opportunities. The initiative was successful, so the commission and other state officials pushed for a larger event.
The result is the third annual statewide "College Application and Exploration Week," starting Monday, according to an announcement from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office. The College Foundation of West Virginia will provide information about higher education opportunities at roughly 70 middle schools and high schools.
"This collaborative effort among K-12, higher education, and community organizations builds enthusiasm for education and training beyond high school by encouraging students who have not yet realized their full potential and assisting them in discovering their options - and ultimately - their passion," said commission Chancellor Paul Hill in a news release.
There are games and prizes donated by various colleges available during the week, but Kennedy said the event is really about access. It allows students to talk with current college students about their experiences, work with volunteers to submit college applications or speak with people in the working world about what worked best for them.
Hill has repeatedly said an additional 20,000 college graduates are need by 2018 in West Virginia merely to maintain the current workforce. At the same time the number of West Virginia students graduating from high school has dropped slightly.
That makes it even more important to help interested students learn about their options, Kennedy said.
"Many first generation students could benefit by connecting with individuals who have been to college, or simply by knowing that their choice to attend college is supported," Kennedy added. "This is a way to signal the importance of postsecondary education, and build a dialogue to support students' aspirations."
Each site has some leeway as to the programming and schedule for the events, Kennedy said. Most take place during the day and are aimed at current students, but there will also be opportunities for adults interested in returning to school,according to the news release.
Visit www.cfwvconnect.com/caew_locations for a complete list of participating schools.