Gov. Cooper directs $51 million in grants to help low-, middle-income families afford a college education

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Many low- and middle-income families in North Carolina may soon see more financial help in the form of education grants amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday directed $51.4 million in new funding to help students access and complete postsecondary education.

The funding is North Carolina’s share of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund, federal dollars that aim to help school districts, postsecondary institutions, or other education-related entities address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Students and educators across our state have faced challenges both inside and outside the classroom over the course of the pandemic,” said Cooper. “The GEER funds announced today will provide much-needed relief for the state’s community colleges and universities, help us continue to build and grow a successful and diverse workforce and provide students equitable access to postsecondary education.”

With the package, the state will launch the Longleaf Commitment program, a $31.5 million investment to guarantee that graduating high school seniors from low- and middle-income families receive at least $2,800 in federal and state grants to cover tuition and most fees at any of the state’s 58 community colleges.

According to a news release, the program will supplement the federal Pell grant and existing aid by providing an additional $700 to $2,800 grant per year for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years for students to earn an associate degree and/or credits to transfer to a four-year college or university in North Carolina.

In total, $44 million of the funds will be used to help students access college and earn degrees starting this fall. About $5 million will be used to support mental health initiatives across state postsecondary institutions and $2.4 million into equity-focused initiatives for K-12 and postsecondary students and families.

If enacted, the NC Guarantee would ensure that students from eligible families receive at least $6,000 per year in federal and state grants toward attending any UNC institution or North Carolina Community College.

“While we work with legislators to fund the NC Guarantee, today’s graduates need help immediately,” said Cooper. “Longleaf Commitment is a down payment toward more affordable and predictable pathways for students through NC Guarantee.”

To support student success after enrollment, the Longleaf Commitment program will also provide matching grants to help colleges expand student advising, success coaching, and related services, according to the release.

“Education translates into opportunity, and I thank Governor Cooper for his decision to use federal funds to extend higher education opportunities for students to attend community colleges,” said Thomas Stith, president of the NC Community College System. “North Carolina’s ‘great 58’ community colleges are essential to the state’s economic recovery efforts and are well poised to prepare the workforce needed, today and tomorrow.”

The package will also improve data and expand equity initiatives through the following programs:

  • $825,000 to expand the Jobs for North Carolina Graduates (JNCG) program, which teaches 11th and 12th grade high school students employability and workplace skills in preparation for the workforce after graduation. The program currently operates at eight high schools in mostly rural counties in North Carolina. JNCG college and career coaches at each participating school identify students who are at risk of not completing high school or transitioning into the workplace due to economic, family, academic, or personal barriers.
  • “To increase school completion, improve graduation and ensure students continue their education journey into postsecondary, it’s essential that our youth have access to academic and career development support, particularly as they attempt to regain momentum post COVID,” said Jill Cox, President and CEO of Communities In Schools of North Carolina. “This incredible investment in our 11th and 12th grade students in the Jobs for North Carolina’s Graduates program will ignite hope and propel future opportunities for students state-wide.”
  • $750,000 to develop an Education Recovery Dashboard, which will empower education leaders with data necessary to better serve students, families, and educators as school districts and colleges manage more than $10 billion in federal education aid. This resource will provide timely data to ensure the state’s education recovery is fast and fair.
  • $650,000 to develop and promote an accessible digital literacy toolkit that educates students and parents on the digital literacy skills that are critical to remote learning and workforce opportunities. This is a recommendation of the Andrea Harris Task Force, which Governor Cooper established to address the social, economic, environmental, and health disparities in communities of colors.
  • $173,000 to further support the NC School of Science and Math and UNC School for Arts, which each received limited to no federal COVID relief funds because of the size of their high school student populations.

Additional details on how students can apply for these grants will be available here.

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