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Next NC Scholarship works to remove financial obstacles for college students

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Though finances can be a hurdle for students seeking higher education, a new scholarship in North Carolina may completely remove that obstacle for many.

The Next NC Scholarship combines state funds and the Federal Pell Grant to offer free community college tuition for North Carolina students with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $80,000 or less. The scholarship also covers at least half of UNC System tuition. 

“The Next NC Scholarship really is a fantastic tool to give so many of our students the opportunity to attend college for free or heavily discounted,” said Benjamin Rickert, director of marketing and communications for Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC). “As educators, partners in our state’s workforce development engine, our hope is that the Next NC Scholarship is going to encourage more of our students to pursue postsecondary education and gain jobs in those high demand and high wage workforce areas that our state needs.”

Qualifying students enrolling in any of the state’s 58 community colleges can receive at least $3,000 for tuition and fees, and students enrolling in any of the state’s 16 public universities will receive at least $5,000 for tuition and fees. 

Erin Fabian, director of marketing and communications for Cape Fear Community College (CFCC), said when students are able to access education, it changes their lives and gives them the opportunity to realize their potential — free of burdens.

“They’re free to explore the opportunities that are available to them,” Fabian said. “And they’re free to study and free to kind of explore the career that they want for themselves.”

How to apply

Eligible students are automatically considered for the scholarship if they are enrolled as a full-time student in a North Carolina community college or public university and have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

To be eligible for the Next NC Scholarship, students must:

  • Be a resident of North Carolina with eligibility for in-state tuition,
  • Have graduated high school or have obtained a high school equivalency,
  • Be enrolled in an undergraduate program for at least six credit hours at a public North Carolina community college or university and meet that schools satisfactory academic progress standards,
  • Have a household with an AGI of $80,000 or less, and
  • Complete the FAFSA by the Next NC Priority dates (June 1, 2024 for UNC System Schools and Aug. 15, 2024 for community colleges) and receive a Student Aid Index number of 7,500 or below.
    • The Federal Student Aid estimator can help students estimate their federal student aid.
    • FAFSA forms submitted after the priority dates will be awarded in order of completion date only as funding allows.

Students eligible for the Next NC Scholarship cannot exceed these semester limits at their college or university:

  • Six semesters in a two-year degree program
  • 10 semesters in a four-year degree program
  • 12 semesters in a five-year degree program

“We’re really grateful to have this tool and strategy. The General Assembly has made this possible as a workforce strategy to us, and it’s giving community colleges like Blue Ridge a strategy to get people to consider higher education and the next steps in their careers,” Rickert said.

Full eligibility information can be found here, and a comprehensive toolkit and user guide for those applying can be found here.

Spreading the word 

Many community colleges are ramping up efforts to spread the word about the Next NC Scholarship to current students, prospective students, and their families. 

“We’re trying to make college accessible to as many North Carolinians as possible, and I think kind of showing the ways that people can enroll without financial burden is extremely important,” Fabian said.

Amy Bowman, executive director of communications and public relations at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI), said promoting the scholarship remains important to give the opportunity of higher education to students who might not think they have that option.

“There may be some who don’t even really consider college because the perception is, ‘It’s very expensive, I have to go into debt, my family can’t afford it, it is too much.’ So pushing this information out may have helped some folks consider the idea of college first, where they otherwise may not have,” Bowman said.

In a presentation delivered to the State Board of Community Colleges, Andrea Poole, executive director of NCSEAA, said a survey showed students said they were more likely to fill out the FAFSA after hearing about the Next NC Scholarship.

This is significant given that FAFSA completion rates are down this year, due in part to the delay in its rollout and glitches in the form for some students, particularly those with parents without a Social Security Number.

“I do think this is a real opportunity for us,” said Dr. Laura Leatherwood, president of Blue Ridge Community College. “But if these colleges aren’t getting that message out to the extent that they can, then that will be a missed opportunity.”

Several colleges, including BRCC, CFCC, and CCC&TI, have added a page about Next NC on their official websites. The three colleges have also been engaging with local high schools and their college and career counselors to disperse information about the scholarship, as well as using social media to connect with students.

Fabian said CFCC has been making special efforts to use social media platforms students are more likely to use, like TikTok, and creating lighthearted yet informative videos on the Next NC Scholarship and FAFSA completion. 

“We’re trying to meet students where they are,” Fabian said. 

@capefearcc Seriously a game changer and not enough people know about it. Visit #nextnc #northcarolina #cfcc #capefearcc #wilmingtonnc #fafsa #financialaid #college #scholarships #scholarship #funfacts #collegehacks #didyouknow #needtoknow #fyp #communitycollege ♬ original sound – Cape Fear CC