The Plough Foundation, working with Leadership Memphis and the city of Memphis, announced Thursday a $1.743 million grant to help raise the college attainment levels of about 200,000 Greater Memphis adults who didn’t finish their post-secondary education.

The grant to the newly created Graduate Memphis program will fund the College Resource Center, which will open July 1 at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library and will provide customized counseling and assistance.

“This is just another symbol that not only is our city growing in terms of factories and parks — that we’re growing intellectually,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, who thanked the Plough Foundation for its “important gift.”

Interested adults will be able to access the center at the library, at its still-unbuilt website or through a toll-free number.

They will be assigned a counselor who will help guide them through the process of re-entering school, selecting classes or locating financial assistance, if necessary, said Fred Turverey, director of the Memphis Talent Dividend and Graduate Memphis.

That counselor will stay with that student until graduation, he said.

One of only a handful of such programs in the country, Graduate Memphis is modeled after Graduate Philadelphia, a program that has a 94 percent success rate for its participants who have either graduated or are still in school, Turverey said.

To achieve its goal, Graduate Memphis will also work with institutions of higher education to create partnerships with corporations to encourage employees to complete their degrees, said Diane Rudner, chairwoman of the Plough Foundation board.

Additional funding from local and national sources will also need to be brought onboard, she said.

“It’s not a small project. Our goals are ambitious,” Rudner said. “But the success of each individual will have an immediate and measurable impact on the future of this community.”

People drop out of college for various reasons — finances, children or jobs, Turverey said. And even if they want to return to school, life often gets in the way.

“We’re not going to say it’s easy. And it’s not just show up and get your degree. You’ve got to commit to the work,” Turverey said. “One of the things we can do is help them get the right major in the right school, at the right time of day.”

A more educated workforce is an economic benefit for the city. According to the Talent Dividend, a 1 percent gain in college-educated residents over five years, about 8,000 people, will produce $1 billion annually in economic impact.

A better-educated community also raises the level of conversation, Wharton said.

“The more educated workforce we have, the greater tolerance and respect for diversity we have,” he said. “Things that are going on now, people are able to discuss them in much more conversant terms as opposed to resorting to less peaceful means of airing their differences. So the benefits are just innumerable that we will get from this.”

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