ACHIEVE ‘near-completer’ grant making degree possible for returning PCA&D students

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Wednesday, July 26th, 2023

When Puah Richardson took a break from her PCA&D career in 2021 with just part of her sophomore year completed, it wasn’t with any solid plan for how to return to finish her degree — she just knew that a break was needed. 

“I love school, and I love structure, and just from that brief time I feel like I came out of (PCA&D) with so much knowledge, but where to go with it?” she said recently. “Where was my end goal?”

And, she says, “watching others with mounds of student debt, I couldn’t justify with my anxious brain to keep going.”

Now, after a break of almost two years, she’s headed back to PCA&D to finish her Associate of Arts degree in Design Thinking with a concentration in Illustration, part of a cohort of students returning thanks to a Pennsylvania ACHIEVE near-completer grant received by the College. The grant will cover many of Richardson’s expenses, and is open to qualifying Pennsylvanians so they can complete an associate or bachelor’s degree, or undergraduate certificate on full scholarship. PCA&D’s program is designed for adult learners, like Richardson, who have some college credit and will benefit economically by completing their degree or certificate. 

“To hear I can go for my (associate) degree in less than a year is so great,” Richardson says. 

The grant

ACHIEVE is a collaborative project led locally by the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board. Regional partners of ACHIEVE, in addition to PCA&D, include Millersville University of Pennsylvania, Elizabethtown College, the Lancaster Chamber, and PA CareerLink Lancaster County. The project enables Pennsylvania residents to complete an unfinished certificate or degree program in a high-demand, family-sustaining wage occupation while providing education, workforce, and other support. Participants also receive guidance, counseling, and health services to address individual needs outside of the educational program. The grant also supports child care reimbursement while participating in educational activities, transportation reimbursement to and from the educational institution, on-campus food assistance or hand-off referral to community resources, and referral to housing assistance services.

“PCA&D is very honored to have the opportunity to participate in the Achieve Project because we know what this opportunity means to so many former students who had to stop out of their education. This grant gives people a chance to restart their education, complete their credential, and work towards their professional goals and dreams. We have met with all of the returning students and they are all incredibly grateful for the opportunity,”  says Justin Phillips who is the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at PCA&D. “The scholarship is a significant difference-maker for those who qualify and apply.”

The funding comes from Pennsylvania’s Near Completer program, as part of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. It began on June 1, 2023 and runs until June 30, 2024. It is designed for Pennsylvanians who have started post-secondary education in high-priority, in-demand fields but stopped without completing their degrees or certificates. Ensuring a skilled workforce through job training and educational support is a key priority of Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, whose administration approved the funding of the Near Completer program to help address significant labor shortages across a range of sectors, many of which inhibit economic growth. These awards will assist employers across the Commonwealth with recruiting and retaining workers, while simultaneously helping job seekers who are close to graduating or certificate completion, ensuring Pennsylvania jobs are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled employees, and workers are equipped to succeed.

‘I was just so happy’

Richardson remembers the day that an envelope arrived in the mail with the College’s return address. 

Reading through the grant information, and realizing what the possibility of returning to college could mean, she says, was “super exciting — I was shook!” she laughs. “That’s not junk mail!”

I went to the site (to see if she qualified), filled out the form, and maybe two days passed before I called. I couldn’t wait. I had to ask and tell them, ‘I really want this. Did I fill out everything correctly?'”

After she learned she qualified, Richardson met with Phillips, Dean of Faculty & Academic Affairs Linda King Brown, and Registrar Hannah Warner to go over details and make sure she got signed up for the classes needed to finish her associate degree — an option that didn’t exist at the time she was first enrolled at PCA&D.

She is “super excited”  to have classes with some of the instructors she had the first time around, she says, and says everyone she’s dealt with at PCA&D has been helpful in getting her back on track and integrated back into the College community. 

“I have a goal,” Richardson says of earning her associate degree. “This makes it possible, and I don’t have to spend two and a half more years to realize it.”

Learn more

Watch the video below to learn in detail about the ACHIEVE near-completer grant, what it covers, and if you may qualify. Or, go here to learn more about PCA&D’s participation in ACHIEVE and for links to the eligibility questionnaire. 

Equal Opportunity Program/Employer. Auxiliary aids and services are available upon request to those with disabilities.
Program funded with federal dollars. For detailed information see www.lancastercountywib.com/organizational-integrity/operating-documents