Thinking about community college? Learn about your financial aid options.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Are you a high school student considering a two-year community college? Learn about financial aid options in this article.

If you are thinking about attending a two-year community college after earning your high school diploma, you will want to learn about the financial aid options that are available to you.

Attending a community colleges for one to two years before transferring to a four year institution is a great, affordable option.

Many students at community college—such as Cosumnes River College, a community college in Sacramento, California—have responsibilities to deal with that extend beyond the classroom. A large number of community college students work full or part time jobs while they study. Many have children. Many classify as low-income or first-generation students. For these reasons and more, these students may need access to financial aid options even as they take classes at local community colleges.

Some community colleges are working to provide financial aid for their community college students. Community colleges will often have enrollment spikes during times of high unemployment because they provide a great, low-cost option for those who cannot afford four-year public and private universities. 

In general, the economy has taken a hard hit due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Colleges and universities have not been exempt. As such, financial aid options may not be as widely available this year as states make large cuts to higher education funding.

Let’s take a look at an example. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a 2020-2021 budget that cuts at least $1 billion in funding for California Community Colleges. Marty J. Alvarado, the California Community Colleges executive vice chancellor for education services, says this budget cut will have a direct impact on students.

After nearly all colleges and universities transitioned to online college as a response to the novel coronaviru pandemic, community colleges, like other higher education institutions, began to distribute federal emergency financial aid to eligible students. This financial aid was provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. This act, known as the CARES Act, included funding for currently enrolled college students.

A few community colleges throughout the country are still giving out financial aid relief with funding from that money. Some do not have any funds left.

In an interview with U.S. News, Alvarado shared, “It is anticipated that our institutions are going to be very stretched to be able to meet the needs of students. There is direct aid that needs to go to students, but we also provide mental health resources, tutoring resources, academic and emotional counseling resources. Right now, we are choosing to provide direct aid to students, but then that’s cutting back on those wraparound services students need.”

Mark D’Amico, president of the Council for the Study of Community Colleges, shares, “Now we are transitioning into phase two of this, which is really the fall transition. As all colleges across the country that had gone online are doing, they’re thinking about their reopening plan and how they’ll do that.”

It is likely that community colleges students will be struggling with various challenges in the coming fall. They may struggle with unemployment, child care needs, and even food and/or housing insecurity. Students may still be able to get emergency aid from their school or state as well as community college partnerships.

Community colleges usually have partnerships with various local or national philanthropic service organizations. Students can normally contact their school to learn more about what’s available and how to access these funds. Community colleges may even request a gift aid from individual donors for the needs of a specific student.

If community college students have had any big changes to their financial situation, they should work with financial aid offices to update information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Updating FAFSA information so that it reflects a student’s current ability to pay for school can be helpful in obtaining more financial aid. 

Community colleges respond differently based on local needs and circumstances. This implies that students can get financial aid, but support will vary.

Many community colleges have announced tuition freezes. This will try to help ease the financial burden on these students. For example, all Virginia community colleges will freeze tuition for the upcoming academic year thanks to a decision made by the State Board.

Community colleges are likely to play a role in reopening the U.S. economy because many enroll in community college technical education programs. Providing financial support to students will, therefore, be important.

Community colleges are working to provide students with money for basic needs, stable internet connection and perhaps even laptops. Community college students should contact their financial aid office and check emails for the latest updates as policies continue to change.

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