By Beth Lawrence
Gov. Roy Cooper visited Southwestern Community College on Thursday to speak with the beneficiaries of his Finish Line Grant program.
Four recipients of the grant told the governor about their degree programs and the reasons they applied for the funds.
The program is designed specifically for students at the state’s 58 community colleges. The grants were made available for the 2018-19 school year and will be available again for 2019-20.
Cooper got the idea for the funds when he met with faculty from Western Carolina University.
He learned of a student who was working and attending school but needed car repairs. She was to the point of choosing whether to pay for the repairs or her tuition. The school helped her find the funds to pay for the repairs.
“We all got to thinking there’s got to be some kind of scholarship (for) people who are getting their degree and on their way toward completion that can help push them toward the end,” Cooper said.
The grants are funded by federal money through the Workforce Development Board.
Cooper’s idea was to find money for students at community colleges and universities, but due to funding rules the money could only be used for community college students.
He pointed out that it sometimes takes “just a little bit of money” to either stand in the way of or help people reach their educational goals.
“One of the things I continue to hear about as governor are students who are trying to make a better life for themselves but are one the edge financially,” Cooper said. “It costs money to get an education, but you’ve got to live at the same time. You shouldn’t let a car repair determine whether you get that education.”
The program is designed to help students facing financial constraints that could hamper their education.
Students may apply for up to $1,000 of assistance per semester.
To qualify, students must have finished at least half of the credit hours required to complete their degree or certificate program.
“They have some unanticipated financial need that could potentially derail them from being able to continue forward in the program,” said Thom Brooks, SCC’s executive vice president for instruction and student services. “They need to meet a minimum GPA score of 2.0 as well. It applies to certificate, diploma and degree programs, and our occupational training programs as well. We had someone who was in Basic Law Enforcement Training who took advantage of it.”
Andrew Allen of Whittier is one of SCC’s recipients. He is in the physical therapist assistant degree program. Allen learned of an opportunity to perform his clinical education classes at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. Vidant is a Level I trauma center, so Allen was intrigued at the idea of performing his clinicals in that setting.
“My professor, whenever we first came into the program, explained to us the opportunities that we had. A few of us told her that we were interested, and she made it happen,” he said.
After he was accepted at Vidant, Allen’s plans almost went awry. The hospital is 375 miles from Whittier, requiring Allen to find money for housing and other expenses; he also had to pay his tuition. He had enough money to cover one or the other.
Allen applied for the grant and used it toward his tuition.
“If it wouldn’t have been for the grant, I would have had to probably decline the opportunity to go to Greenville,” he said. “The grant was a blessing. It gave me the opportunity to experience something that there was no other way for me to experience.”
He could have performed his clinicals in the region, but he would not have gained certain experiences available to him at Vidant.
“It’s a great opportunity to get experience in acute care as well as with neuro. There’s no level I trauma center west of Winston-Salem,” Allen said.
North Carolina requires physical therapy assistant students to complete courses in clinical internship I, meeting 200 clinical hours and clinical internship II, for 240 clinical hours.
If Allen has continued success, he will graduate in the spring and will be able to take his licensure exam in July.
The other three students experienced setbacks that many adults working and trying to earn a degree experience. One student needed car repairs. Jackson County resident Megan Beck is in Southwestern’s radiography program. She told the crowd that she drives 500 miles a week for clinicals alone.
“Scholarships don’t always cover things like car repairs or the unforeseen things that come up at any time,” Beck said.
Her car had a cracked timing belt and faulty water pump .
“Thankfully, I was able to get those taken care of, but they could have gone out and I would not have been able to get to clinic or class, or worst case they could have gone out while I was driving,” Beck said.
Two others needed tires. They had worn out their tires on their commutes to and from school in addition to the driving required for their daily lives.
Each community college works with a local Work Force Development Board to review student applications.
SCC and the Workforce Board helped 101 of Southwestern’s approximately 2,400 students apply for 129 grants totaling $100,000 in assistance.
The school ranked third in the state for the amount of grants awarded.
Southwestern Commission employee Brenda Millett was on the college’s campus twice a week to help students navigate the application process. Students were sent from the financial aid office to Millet with a checklist of items that would be needed to apply.
The state had given Southwestern an additional $100,000 for the 2019-20 year.
The governor hopes to make the money part of the state’s regular budget and expand the program to universities as well.
“We requested it in the budget in the general assembly. They did not put it in their budget this time, so we did use this federal money,” Cooper said. “I think with the success of this, particularly with the small amount of money that goes such a long way for these students, I’m hoping that we can have some success next year with the budget.”
Cooper and the General Assembly are in an 8-eight-week standoff over the budget. He vetoed the budget presented to him, because he felt it did not do enough to fund education and healthcare saying that it did not “square with the values of North Carolinians.”