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2012 October 1 - 12:00 am

Pilot Program Links Low-Income Students to Benefits

WASHINGTON — Seven community colleges are embarking on a pilot project aimed at connecting low-income students to local, state and federal benefits — including child care subsidies and food stamps — that might make it easier for them to stay in college and earn a postsecondary credential.

Benefits Access for College Completion (BACC) is a three-year, $4.84 million initiative funded by the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations, and managed by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The Annie E. Casey Foundation is also contributing to the initiative.

The initiative will link low-income students with aid that can fill the gap between financial aid and the resources needed to attend college. The initiative’s aim is to help students complete their studies swiftly and successfully move into jobs earning family-sustaining wages.

According to the College Board, the average full-time community college student had more than $6,000 in unmet need in 2011-12 The result is that 66 percent of young community college students work more than 20 hours per week to help pay for school and their home and family obligations, and 58 percent attend college part-time to accommodate work.

“In today’s economy, it’s more important than ever that students have the supports to earn a higher education so they can land better jobs and support their families,” said Evelyn Ganzglass, director of workforce development at CLASP, a non-profit that advocates for low-income Americans. “Rising college costs mean an education is increasingly out of reach for millions. By combining traditional student financial aid with public supports, students are better positioned to get by and complete their education.”

Each college has created its own plan to integrate screening and application assistance for public benefits with the services the colleges already provide, like financial aid counseling. The colleges are partnering with local human services agencies to better provide these integrated services. Each one took into account local resources and policy contexts to develop strategies that will substantially assist students.

“We applaud these colleges for taking an informed and proactive look at how they can help those students most in need of financial and public support to pursue their college and career goals while dealing with work and family pressures,” said AACC President Walter G. Bumphus said. “These benefits, including health insurance, food, and child care, as well as financial aid, can help them to complete credentials and get into well-paying jobs.”

The colleges participating in the implementation phase of the project are: Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio); Gateway Community and Technical College (Ky.); LaGuardia Community College (N.Y.); Lake Michigan College and Macomb Community College (Mich.), Northampton Community College (Pa.), and Skyline College (Calif).

“These institutions have stepped up with new and creative ideas to meet the financial needs of low-income college students,” said Ford Foundation Program Officer Chauncy Lennon. “This initiative will offer a space for experimentation to test whether delivering these supports on campus will ultimately increase the number of students who complete credentials, become skilled workers and succeed in our economy.”

The pilot period for this initiative will last from the fall 2012 semester through 2014, after which BACC will share the most successful strategies and lessons learned with policymakers and other community colleges nationwide to improve retention and credential completion.

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