PITTSBORO – Gov. Roy Cooper visited Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on Thursday, Aug. 23, to shine a spotlight on Finish Line Grants, a new initiative to help students facing financial hardships complete their education at community colleges across the state.
“I want a North Carolina where people are better educated,” Cooper told a standing-room audience on CCCC’s Chatham Main Campus. “Where they’re healthier. Where they have more money in their pockets. And they have the opportunities to live a more abundant and purposeful life. That’s it.”
Then he added a comic touch: “The third grade class I told that to the other day liked the ‘more money in their pockets’ part.”
Throughout his comments, Cooper stressed how vital community colleges are to the state’s economic development. When he speaks with corporate CEOs and small business owners about expanding in North Carolina, the one question they ask is whether the state has skilled and trained people who can do the jobs being created.
“We’re in a place right now,” Cooper said referring to the college, “that’s providing them with that workforce.”
How Finish Line Grants Work
CCCC President Dr. T. Eston Marchant says the college is planning to offer Finish Line Grants beginning this fall. They will help build that workforce by helping students complete the education they started.
Under grant guidelines, students facing financial hardship and enrolled in an eligible curriculum program — or those formerly enrolled and seeking to return to complete their degree — may apply for amounts up to $1,000 per semester to cover specific expenses that could keep them from obtaining their degree in a shorter period of time or dropping out of school entirely. They must have completed at least 75 percent of their degree or credential program.
Grants could be awarded to help with healthcare costs, childcare expenses or housing needs students face through no fault of their own. Finish Line Grants are designed to be flexible and awarded quickly.
Marchant says there are students every year who cannot complete their degree for one reason or another. Often, they intend to leave college for just a short time, but end up never completing their education. “When you drop out for a semester, it’s hard to get back,” he said. “This will allow students to come in and finish.”
Cooper said his office pieced-together $7 million for grants statewide. While funding has not been approved beyond this initial year, he hopes the state legislature will provide additional funding to continue the initiative.
Grants would help students like Alexander Blanco, a second-year dental hygiene student at CCCC who received similar assistance through the college’s own Dreamkeeper Fund.
The grant he received allowed the financially strapped student to purchase his dental loupes, special glasses hygienists use while working on patients. It’s the kind of assistance other students could receive from Finish Line Grants.
As Blanco recounted his story for the audience in Pittsboro, he thanked Cooper for supporting the financial aid initiative. “No other student should have to give up on their dreams because they can no longer afford to pursue them or because they are facing any hardships,” he said.
A Walk Through Campus
Before the 30-minute program, Cooper took a short campus tour, accompanied by about two dozen people — among them, CCCC trustees, college administrators and several elected officials.
After surprising faculty and students hard at work in the culinary arts kitchen, the group walked the length of one building, dropping into a classroom where students in CCCC’s Sustainable Technologies and Building Construction Technology programs construct a small cottage each year using sustainable technologies.
Students took a break while instructor Jeff Gannon described the project before a few students asked for selfies with the governor. Before the group continued down the hallway, Cooper joined the students for a large group photo.
One of the dignitaries touring with the governor was North Carolina Community College System President Peter Hans, also an advocate of Finish Line Grants. During his formal remarks, Hans said it was important in a volatile economy for the state to produce more people with educational credentials.
“We’re going to help more students complete those degrees, diplomas and credentials that they’ll need,” he said, “to take care of themselves, provide for their families and strengthen their communities.”
The Local Workforce
Finish Line Grants are an initiative of the North Carolina Department of Commerce Division of Workforce Solutions and the North Carolina Community College System Office, but are administered for CCCC by the Triangle South Workforce Development Board — one of 23 regional groups in the state that provide services to enhance the local workforce.
From her position as director of Triangle South, Rosalind Cross can see how Finish Line Grants will strengthen the broader economic environment.
Students who receive grants will not only get the immediate financial help, but will be able to tap into other employment and training services already provided by the center based in Lee County Industrial Park.
“The impact for the community is very positive,” Cross said. “Local employers know that we have initiatives in place to help students get through their education. Therefore, there should be a diminished dropout rate, so we can get these individuals back out into the workforce.”
Given its scope, Finish Line Grants will take a lot of people and agencies working together. But the benefit is fairly simple. As the governor put it: “A car repair should not determine your future.”
To learn more about Central Carolina Community College and its programs, visit www.cccc.edu.