North Carolina might beat President Barack Obama to offering free community college, at least for top performing high school students.
A proposal moving through the state legislature is designed to benefit North Carolina high school students who graduate with at least a 3.5 GPA. If a student’s financial aid doesn’t cover the cost of community college, the state would fill in the gaps for two years. Legislators discussed House Bill 129 on Tuesday in an N.C. House committee.
“This will help us be a little bit more competitive with our neighboring states,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Alleghany, noting that Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee have similar programs. The bill sets aside $2 million to pay for scholarships in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Elmore, a primary sponsor of the bill, said it would help build a stronger workforce to meet the state’s needs while also saving both the state and students a significant amount of money.
The state pays $13,419 per student annually for in-state tuition at UNC-system schools, while a year of community college costs the state $4,401.
The proposal builds on the state’s Comprehensive Articulation Agreement, which allows high school students admitted to UNC-system universities to defer admission for two years, enroll in any state community college and then transfer with junior status.
UNC’s version of the agreement is called the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, or C-STEP. Most students enrolled in C-STEP have done so for personal and academic reasons and not because of financial hardship, said Steve Farmer, UNC’s vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions.
Farmer did not comment directly on the legislation but said he would support a movement to provide more financial aid to college students.
“Anything that helps people finance the first two years of community college — whether it’s traditionally aged students or other students — I think it’s a great thing,” he said.