Written by Kate Murphy, The News and Observer
Raleigh, NC (AP) – Additional recent high school graduates will be able to earn a degree from any North Carolina community college thanks to the newly expanded scholarship program.
Longleaf Commitment Scholarships can cover tuition and fees for up to two years for low-income students who graduated in 2020 or 2021. The program has been expanded to include 2020 high school graduates to boost enrollment and make higher education more affordable and accessible, especially for students impacted by the COVID pandemic. -19.
It was previously offered to 2021 graduates only, but increased funds in the program prompted expansion.
“Education translates into opportunity, and with this expansion of the scholarship, we are excited to provide more opportunities for our diverse students across the state,” Thomas Steth III, president of the North Carolina Community College System, said in a statement.
A second chance in education
Alan Hidalgo-Lobo, 24, is one of more than 11,000 students who have already received a school scholarship this fall.
He is working on an associate’s degree at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte in order to transfer to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and earn a bachelor’s degree. He then plans to attend Central NC University Law School and become a criminal defense attorney.
Hidalgo-Lobo said this scholarship changed his life. It gave him the opportunity and financial aid to obtain a college degree after leaving high school due to the death of his father.
“I was embarrassed that my whole class walked on the podium and I didn’t,” Hidalgo-Lobo said. “I was so frustrated to go back to school.”
But a few years later, he decided to get a GED at Central Piedmont and received his diploma in April 2021. A Hidalgo-Lobo advisor told him about the Longleaf scholarship, and three weeks later he enrolled in summer school with his tuition and fees covered. . He also uses the money to help pay for books and transportation, he said.
“I always knew I had potential… I am capable of accomplishing anything I set my mind to,” Hidalgo-Lobo said. “I knew I wanted to advance in life.”
He said that this scholarship helps him financially and mentally to reach his professional goals.
Governor Roy Cooper directed $25 million in federal funds to develop the scholarship program through the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund. The money had to be used to help education-related institutions recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and Cooper worked with the NC Community College System to launch it earlier this year.
At a state budget briefing this week, Cooper said one of the things the budget got right was “helping more people get credentials and certifications, including extending my Longleaf Commitment Scholarship Program.”
The state budget allocates an additional $31 million to continue the program’s growth with approximately $25 million for scholarships and $6 million for community colleges to hire more academic advisors.
In an interview with News & Observer, Stith said they are working to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on students and aid the state’s economic recovery.
Steth said the community college system “fuels the state’s job engine” and prepares students for high-demand, high-paying jobs.
“We’re seeing significant business siting growth and expansion in the state,” Steth said, noting that Apple has opened a campus in Research Triangle Park.
He said the initiative aims to educate and train students to meet the demands of the state’s workforce with the growth of local businesses and the arrival of major companies.
North Carolina students can apply for between $700 and $2,800 to attend any of 58 community colleges across the state. Funds will be distributed based on the student’s income level determined through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process.
Students must complete the FAFSA process and have an expected family contribution of less than $15,000 to be eligible.
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