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2008 June 16 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Aid Programs Fall Short

Report Finds Gaps in Aid for  N.C. Community College Students

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A recently released report released criticizes the grant and financial aid programs that serve the state’s 58 community colleges, saying the aid programs fall short of the financial support a typical community college student needs.

With tuition increases, gas prices rising and the cost of living growing, the formula traditionally used to calculate aid for dependent high school graduates doesn’t fit the independent community college student who is likely older, according to a study by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research.

“Aid programs for community colleges must deal with the reality that in North Carolina students are more likely to be independent of their parents, working, and perhaps supporting a family,’’ the study says.

The report, which asks North Carolina lawmakers to make several changes to state law, suggests an increase in the Community College Grant program from $900 to $1,250 annually to cover the average costs of in-state tuition and fees. The study says the grant program, which often bridges the financial gap between actual income and other assistance, has unused funds left at the end of each year.

The report suggests the State Education Assistance Authority help community colleges better participate in federal student loan programs by coming up with tools, such as loan counseling, to prevent loan defaults.

Fewer than half of the state’s community colleges offer federal loans, which ranks North Carolina third-worst in the country, according to an April report from the Project on Student Debt cited in the study.

If a college has 25 percent of students default on federal loans for three years, the school loses federal funding, including the Pell Grant, the nation’s premier financial aid program for low-income students.

Sam Watts, policy analyst for the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, said the benefits of offering loans outweighs the risk of any sanctions colleges face if students default.

“None of the colleges that offer federal student loans are anywhere near danger,’’ Watts said.

U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., co-founder and chairman of the congressional Community College Caucus, agreed with the report’s suggestion that colleges should have programs in place to help students seek federal aid.

“Certainly I would hate for the federal government’s loan program to go unused because of concerns about defaults,’’ Miller said.

To help parents, the report suggests increasing funding for the Child Care Grant program, which helps students enrolled in curriculum programs afford child care.

The North Carolina Community College System serves roughly 800,000 students, making it the third-largest system in the country. 

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