The OACHE is an uncommon partnership of public higher-education institutions and K–12 schools in the 32 counties of Appalachian that was established and funded by the State of Ohio in 1993 to increase the low educational attainment of the region’s citizens. The program unites colleges, universities, K–12 schools and the private sector to increase the region’s college-going rate, currently only half the national average.
The origin of the OACHE was a suggestion by farmer, famed restaurateur and then-member of the Ohio Board of Regents Bob Evans to the college presidents that they address the low college-going rate in his native Appalachian Ohio. Acting on this suggestion, the OBR funded a study, completed in 1992, that has become the definitive work on why Appalachians do not go to college. That study, titled Appalachian Access and Success, instigated the OACHE’s creation.
Access and Success found that although 80 percent of high-school seniors surveyed wanted to attend college, only about 30 percent actually attended. This rate fell well below the rates of Ohio (41 percent) and the entire U.S. 62 percent). The study further found low self-esteem, poverty and lack of information to be among the strongest barriers to college participation. The limited participation of young people in post-secondary education is especially tragic because some barriers are only perceived and would disappear with adequate information and preparation.
To address this serious, problem, in 1993 the Ohio General Assembly established the OACHE through Am. Sub. HB 152 and charged the new consortium with increasing the college-going rate of Appalachian Ohioans. The OACHE has since pursued its mission through a variety of initiatives. At the core of its efforts is the Access Project grant program for K–12 school districts and member higher-education institutions.
Through a federal TRIO grant beginning in 1994, the OACHE also operates an Educational Opportunity Center that helps low-income, first-generation adult students enter or re-enter college. In addition, the OACHE administers a $2-million Educational Assistance Program that provides financial aid to Ohio tobacco growers, quota owners and their dependents on behalf of the Southern Ohio Agricultural and Community Development Foundation.
In 2001 the OACHE was recognized by the Public Employees Roundtable as the number-one state public-service program in the nation. And in the spring of 2003, the OACHE was one of five winners of the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award, presented annually by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University. The OACHE has also helped establish replications of its Access program in eight other states, in partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission.
The presidents of the ten OACHE member institutions (or their designees) serve, with an Ohio Board of Regents representative, as the governing body of the OACHE. They select Access Project grantees and annually honor an outstanding teacher, guidance counselor and administrator. The OACHE is unaware of any similar model (other than its replication programs) that has created such an innovative and effective partnership.