Last spring, the Weber State University Venture Program unveiled its latest graduated class. These students are local community members, many coming from low-income and diverse backgrounds. As a result of the program, they now have 10 credit hours completed at WSU — for free.

The Venture Program is just one of the numerous programs WSU offers to students in need of financial assistance. The program has gone on for three years and runs through fall and spring semesters. Venture helps students attain 10 free credit hours in humanities courses.

Venture and other programs like it are part of WSU’s ongoing efforts to reach out to local citizens as part of its community college mission. Ruth Stubbs, director of Education and Outreach at WSU, oversees many programs like Venture that work to encourage local community members to attend college. Much of the work she does focuses on local school districts, and, according to Stubbs, they’ve been seeing much positive feedback.

“They really value these services,” she said. “We’ve had many students who’ve said they wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for our programs. They wouldn’t have thought about college if it wasn’t for our programs. They wouldn’t have enrolled if it wasn’t for our programs.”

Stubbs also talked about the major obstacles when entering a university that many students faced. She highlighted the most prominent — lack of finances — but also pointed out something else.

“Just simply the belief that they can go,” Stubbs said. “And believeing that ‘I can go to college,’ and having that belief and that perception.”

Jan Winniford, vice president for Student Affairs at WSU, said that WSU provides a venue for raising the educational attainment of people in the local community. She also spoke about how the open-enrollment policy at WSU and the focus on helping undergraduate students attain degrees is part of WSU’s identity.

“That community college mission is really central to who we are,” she said.

Winniford pointed out that WSU also provides for graduate students and students who are working toward graduate programs. This is part of WSU’s dual mission, and many students working toward graduate schools attest to this.

“Those students that come back often talk about the fact that they are every bit as prepared, if not more so, than some of the people that went to these prestigious, selection-based institutions,” she said.

According to Winniford, 65 percent of students attending WSU come from Weber and Davis counties. When these students graduate, many of them stay in the community and contribute to the economic base of the local region. She said another way that WSU benefits the community can be seen in the high number of nontraditional students who attend the institution.

“I think we benefit the community in numerous ways in addition to the Venture Program,” she said, “and trying to reach out to adults who may want to come back.”

Lisa Taylor decided she couldn’t go to college right after high school due to lack of money. As time passed, she married and had children. Now she’s decided to enter into secondary education.

“I’ve been wanting to go back to school for a long time,” she said, “and haven’t gone to any college yet.”

Taylor entered the Venture Program in order to get started in college, and the fact that it was free was a major benefit to her. She will be starting the Venture Program in fall, and is leaning toward continuing on at WSU after the program is finished.

“It’s closer to where I live and it works for what I’m doing with the rest of my life,” she said.

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