Doesn’t cost what slows down university enrollment | Editorial columnists
The Democrats’ passathon heading to President Biden’s office does not contain money for a “free” community college.
As a big supporter of community college, especially Albemarle College, you might expect me to be upset.
Many of us who work or volunteer in the community college system are not sure that âfreeâ community colleges will be cheap enough to attract more students.
The truth is, it can be difficult to donate money for higher education here.
The Pell Grants are a gift from the US taxpayer; no refund is required. These annual stipends of $ 6,495 are generally available to students with a national median household income of $ 63,000 and will cover most of the cost of a two-year degree. Democrats have proposed increasing that amount to $ 7,045.
North Carolina students left $ 89 million in Pell Grant money unclaimed in 2019, part of more than $ 2 billion in Pell money left on the table nationwide.
The Biden administration has extended a moratorium on student loan repayments that will last for more than two years when it expires in May 2022. It costs taxpayers $ 5 billion a month in interest and principal outstanding. He hasn’t moved the needle on college enrollment yet.
COA staff sometimes struggled to match students with available scholarships. In a recent year, 20 percent of COA scholarships were unclaimed.
The COA Foundation instituted a GAP scholarship program four years ago. These annual grants of $ 1,200 were designed to fill gaps not covered by Federal Pell Grants, Named Scholarships and General Scholarships. We started by budgeting $ 40,000 per year, gradually increasing it to $ 100,000. We couldn’t reveal everything. We have reduced the allowance to $ 80,000 last year and to $ 85,000 this year.
Taken together, Pell Grants, local scholarships, loan forgiveness, and various financial aids are already making community colleges “free” to students most in need. Add to that, North Carolina community colleges have an “open admission” policy, making them available to residents over the age of 18 with a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED). .
They have to show up, register and ask for help.
I personally offered to take 14 potential students to the COA campus to get them enrolled. I had success; another looks promising. Admissions and financial aid staff will go out of their way to help. I’m sure this is also true of the staff at the Elizabeth City State University Foundation.
Community college students typically face a myriad of other issues that thwart their college dreams. These can include hunger and financial stress. The COA Cares program maintains a mini food bank on campus with non-perishable and miscellaneous items for use by students. The foundation paid for car repairs and provided money for gasoline to bring the students to class.
Yet enrollment is stable or declining at COA and many of North Carolina’s 58 community colleges. The number of registrations of 2,557 has increased only 6% in five years. Only 30 percent of students are male, but that’s a topic for another day.
Across the city, ECSU is making notable progress in increasing its membership. Despite the NC College Promise program, which limits tuition fees to $ 500 per semester, enrollment of 2,054 students is still one-third below the peak of enrollment in 2010.
Where is everyone, you will ask me?
Even my Rotary club struggled last year to donate 11 college scholarships. Requests have fallen by two-thirds. Part of this was undoubtedly related to COVID. A high school guidance counselor said it was difficult to persuade students to ask for money anyway. “We cannot make them do anything,” she lamented.
More money is not the answer to the challenge of how to attract more Americans to college.
Ambition cannot be legislated. The fire in the womb cannot be funded.
Doug Gardner served on the Board of Trustees of the College of The Albemarle for 11 years and served on the COA Foundation for 23 years, including two times president.