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The road to college is now a little smoother for low-income and nontraditional students, thanks to the expansion of a college-access program.

The Educational Resources Institute, based in Boston, has named three cities--Louisville, Ky., St. Louis, and Washington--as recipients of grant money to launch regional centers for its national "Collaborative for College Access" program.

The cities each received a four-year, $300,000 seed grant from the New York City-based DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund to create the centers. They will use community resources to provide information on applications, financial aid, and careers to students who might not otherwise go to college. The institute will provide technical assistance to the sites.

The three cities were selected from a pool of nine on the basis of public school enrollments, percentages of low-income students, low college-attendance rates, and broad-based support from local universities and schools, said Ann Coles, the executive director of the Higher Education Information Center. "There's a lot of enthusiasm in each of those cities," she said.

The institute is home to the Higher Education Information Center. The center has earned its name by providing free information and other assistance to more than 1 million college-bound Massachusetts students over the past 10 years.

A small liberal-arts college has apparently become the first college to make community service the cornerstone of its financial-aid program.

Olivet College, in Olivet, Mich., plans to earmark $1 million next year and up to $10 million, or 75 percent of its scholarship money, over the next four years for scholarships for students with a history of civic responsibility and service. The school, which has roughly 800 students, will offer about 200 such scholarships of up to $6,000 each.

Olivet's previous aid program was based on such traditional factors as grade-point averages and test scores, said Timothy J. Nelson, the college's vice president for enrollment management.

But when the school established a new curriculum emphasizing social responsibility, he said, administrators decided it was time to rethink the qualifications for scholarships.

Pam Boylan, a spokeswoman for the Providence, R.I.-based Campus Compact, a coalition of schools with a commitment to community service, said Olivet's program appeared to be unique. "There are a couple of other schools that have done or do community-service scholarships, but not at this level of $10 million," she said.

--Jeanne Ponessa

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