College Access Center of Delaware County to Close in June

After 10 years working in Chester, the College Access Center of Delaware County (CACDC) will be closing on June 30th. Since 2009, the CACDC has provided free college access services to thousands of students in Delaware County. Their services have included one-on-one tutoring, SAT prep, mentoring, and support with the financial aid process.

The CACDC was founded in 2009 by the Chester Higher Education Council (CHEC). CHEC is a collaboration between six colleges around the Chester area—Swarthmore College, Widener University, Neumann University, Penn State Brandywine, Cheney University, and Delaware County Community College. On January 17th, CHEC announced they would be disbanding and closing the CACDC.

Cynthia Jetter, a Swarthmore alum and Chester native, spearheaded the formation of the CACDC. She currently works in the President’s Office as the Executive Director of the College Access Center of Delaware County and Director of Collective Impact for the Chester Higher Education Consortium. Growing up in Chester, she knew how limited college access resources were in the community and saw an opportunity confront this inequality. In her role as the Director of Community Partnerships and Planning at the Lang Center, she brought together the presidents of the six colleges to form CHEC because she saw that they could “make a broader impact by pooling [their] resources.”

The founding of CHEC and the CACDC was also, in part, a response to the closing of the decades-old Upward Bound program run by Swarthmore, which, according to Jetter, was “one of the main ways kids from Chester got to go to college.” The program closed when, one year, Swarthmore failed to get the grant application materials in on time and then decided to no longer continue pursuing funding for the program. Jetter said she still receives calls from parents asking about the Upward Bound program.

Since the founding of CHEC, the presidents of all six schools have changed, and so have the schools’ priorities. Jetter said the reason for the closing of the CACDC is mainly financial, as CHEC has struggled in recent years to raise the necessary funds.

“It was never the intent of the six schools to fully fund any project or activity or program that came out of CHEC. They were to be a mechanism to bring resources together,” Jetter said.

Greg Brown, Vice President for Finance and Administration, wrote in an email on behalf of the President’s Office, “The financial model for the CACDC has been a challenge for several years.  Each of the member schools paid dues to support its programming, and some institutions contributed funds to cover personnel costs and to provide space to support the program and administrative offices.  Students from some institutions, especially Swarthmore, provided many hours of tutoring. The remainder of the funds were raised on annual basis from a variety of businesses and non-profits. Raising these funds on an annual basis was a daunting challenge.  Because of these funding challenges, the CHEC Board decided to disband as an organization and commit itself to providing similar services going forward.”

Could Swarthmore have taken over operation of the CACDC? According to Jetter, maybe. “Certainly one school could take it on. I guess it is just the level of commitment you’re willing to put into it, if you are going to try to pick up whatever gap exists for fundraising, and schools make choices,” Jetter said.

Today, Jetter is proud of all that the CACDC has accomplished, but also has her reservations about what, if anything, will replace it. “The hope is that the community or some entity will be able to step in and provide, if not all the services we provided, hopefully, some of them,” Jetter said. “Do I think something will rise up to replace it? In the deepest of my heart, no.”

However, the Swarthmore administration has said they are dedicated to ensuring that college access services continue in Chester. “Let me state unequivocally that while CACDC may be closing its doors, college prep tutoring in Chester has not ended. Swarthmore remains fully committed to Chester, our longstanding partner community. Chester's young people remain our high priority. The only question is how we can best engage for mutual benefit, not whether.  College access tutoring will continue, uninterrupted, with a long-term focus on providing the best possible resources for Chester's youth,” Brown wrote in an email. “Through a grant from the United Way, a consultant has been working with CHEC and with various stakeholders to develop short-term and long-term replacements for the CACDC's programming.”

Nonetheless, the some community members in Chester are upset by CHEC’s decision to close the CACDC. “They cannot imagine the Center closing with six universities and colleges involved, and particularly it being a fiscal issue. They are very upset about that. They [the members of CHEC] couldn’t have possibly understood the impact that it made and walk away from it,” Jetter said.  

The CACDC has also impacted the Swarthmore students who have volunteered there. Eishna Raganathan ’20, who was a Chester Community Fellow at the CACDC, saw the significance of the work the CACDC does. “I think it is really important for people to be able to make an informed decision about what college is like. I feel like that that narrative is really not present for the kids that come [to the CACDC],” Raganathan said.  

She thinks Swarthmore needs to engage with the City of Chester. “If we are really deeply interested in social justice, it’s not that hard to make an impact. Look next door,” Raganathan said.  

The CACDC is an important part of that engagement. “It’s something that needs to be there—in that place,” Raganathan said.  

Note: The author has volunteered with the CACDC since 2015.