PEP program puts college within reach for local students

Higher education is often seen as out of reach for many. With rising costs and a tighter belt on federal funds, potential students depend on scholarships to make the dream of college possible.

In Plainview, one program is bringing university education closer for many students. With the Plainview Education Partnership, funded in part by the Plainview Area United Way, local students can attend Wayland Baptist University tuition-free for their first year.

Enrollment for PEP, as it is known, occurs each fall for high school juniors, with an informational meeting at the high school. This year, the meeting will be held Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Plainview High School cafeteria. At the meeting, students and parents can learn what is required for the program and have the opportunity to enroll at that time. The final deadline to enroll is Sept. 27.

After enrollment, students must maintain a B average and have at least 95 percent attendance through their junior and senior years. As long as those two requirements are met, the graduating senior is eligible for 30 semester hours at Wayland over the next fall and spring semester.

According to Shawn Thomas, director of admissions at Wayland, approximately 100 juniors enroll in PEP each year, with nearly half actually enrolling at the university. Though some transfer after the first year, the hope is that local students will find their local university to be a second home. For some, being able to stay close at home and earn their education makes Wayland the perfect solution.

Alanna Dixon, a sophomore at Wayland, fell into that category. A native of Plainview, Dixon enrolled in the PEP program her junior year at Plainview High, admittedly not knowing what was really involved.

In her senior year, Dixon began looking toward college, limiting her applications to a nearby state school and Wayland. After getting to know some Wayland students who worked with her youth group at First Baptist Church, she decided Wayland was where she needed to be.

“The PEP scholarship made a big difference, too,” she said. “College is expensive as it is, but that helped out a lot.”

Her parents, Marcia and Don Dixon, agreed.

“Like a lot of parents, when you only have a little set back for your kids’ education, the PEP made all the difference in them being able to go somewhere and delay those student loans a little longer,” Marcia said. “From another perspective, if a student doesn’t really know what they want to do, this gives them a place to go while they decide. They can be exposed to all the things colleges have to offer and maybe something will click with them. It’s a great springboard for them.”

“It’s a wonderful program and so few students take advantage of it, I think because they feel like they’re stuck at home,” she added. “But there is such a great community family at Wayland, and some do decide to stay.”

Her daughter met that description as well.

“I met so many people there, and everyone is so friendly,” she said. “The professors really work with you, no matter what you’re going through.”

While she hasn’t yet picked a major, Dixon said she is at home at Wayland for now and is glad she decided to stick around.