When Randolph College sophomore Sabina Sabat was thinking about what college she wanted to attend after graduation, she knew Randolph College was the perfect school for her.

Sabat, a 2017 graduate of E.C. Glass High School, said attending a local college has many benefits including saving money and knowing your community, and the transition from high school to college is easier.

“Being close to the people you grew up with and in the area you grew up in, there’s a unique way you get to watch yourself grow, and I really appreciate that opportunity. You can be around the same people and places and have memories with those people and places and really just see how different you’ve become in your time in that space,” Sabat said.

Attending a local college has also given Sabat an opportunity to know a different part of Lynchburg, she said.

“I’ve gotten to be a member of a community within a community and felt a stronger connection to the people that make this city what it is,” Sabat said.

Now, Lynchburg Beacon of Hope is encouraging Lynchburg City School students to follow Sabat’s lead and stay in Lynchburg for their postsecondary education with the Stay Close, Go Far Promise Scholarship Program. Through the program, Beacon of Hope will provide up to $8,000 to any student who plans to attend certain local colleges, universities and technical institutions.

Lynchburg Beacon of Hope is a nonprofit that partners with Lynchburg City Schools to prepare every student for postsecondary education.

Stay Close, Go Far is a five-year promise to Lynchburg students. It’s uncertain whether the promise will continue after the initial five years.

Beginning with the Class of 2019, the program will provide up to $8,000 per student over two years to attend Central Virginia Community College (CVCC) or over four years to attend Liberty University, Centra College of Nursing, Randolph College, Sweet Briar College or the University of Lynchburg. Students who attend the University of Lynchburg and receive the Stay Close, Go Far promise will also receive $2,000 per year in the form of a matching grant from the university.

A student could attend CVCC for free with this promise, Beacon of Hope Executive Director Laura Hamilton said.

After taking advantage of all financial aid opportunities, Hamilton said in many cases for students planning to attend four-year institutions, the gap in costs is $2,000 to $3,500.

Melissa Richards, vice president for communications and enrollment management at Sweet Briar College, said other benefits associated with going to college in Lynchburg include transportation costs, having a student’s support network nearby and the ability to continue working at part-time jobs or volunteer organizations from high school.

Hamilton said the nonprofit has raised “a little more than 70 percent” of the $5 million goal for the promise.

To qualify for the promise, students must attend an LCS high school for four years, use the nonprofit’s Future Centers at each high school to seek other financial aid opportunities and remain academically eligible at the local college or university they choose to attend.

Not having a GPA requirement is a positive, said Heritage senior Luke Tollar, 17.

“[The promise is] for anyone and everyone who wants to actually go to college, so more people will be involved in the community. It’s not based on where you live or how much you make,” Tollar said.

Hamilton said generally, each LCS graduating class is between 530 and 550 students, and about 30 percent to 40 percent of students attend a local college, university or technical institution.

“We’re hoping that if we can keep them here, educate them here and help them connect to the jobs here, they’ll end up staying in this incredible community that has invested in them long term,” Hamilton said.

John Capps, president of CVCC, said the promise is a “game changer” and more.

“[The promise] is a life changer. It’s going to change the lives of our students, but it’s also going to change Lynchburg as we know it,” Capp said. “Education is the key to social equality and economic prosperity, so it’s absolutely crucial if students are going to raise the quality of their lives that they get a higher education.”

E.C. Glass High School senior Morgan Gafford, 17, said knowing there’s community support “feels really, really nice.”

“Sometimes you may get down about Lynchburg or being stuck in one area, but when you see how many people really care about you, all you have to do is talk to them, and they’ll be there to support you. They’ll find a way to support you,” Morgan said.

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