In an effort to help students access and complete postsecondary education in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has directed $51.4 million in new funding initiatives across the state.
Cooper has allocated $44 million of the funds to help students access college and earn degrees starting this fall; $5 million 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.
Experts say that kind of financial investment is a major investment in education and will go a long way in helping institutions rebound from the pandemic.
“Independent colleges and universities have worked so hard during this pandemic to keep students safe and on track for their educational progress,” said Dr. A. Hope Williams, president of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities. “We deeply appreciate the Governor’s support for mental health assistance and for $4 million which will be instrumental in helping students complete their degree.
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, a Democrat. “The GEER funds 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.”
As part of this financial package, Cooper said that the state will also 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. The Commitment 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.
“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 North Carolina 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 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.
Walter Hudson can be reached at [email protected]