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Community college will become more affordable for some with new Longleaf Commitment

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Some students will find community college more affordable, at least in the near term, with the announcement of the new Longleaf Commitment by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Using federal COVID-19 aid, Cooper is providing $31.5 million so that high school seniors from low- and middle-income families can get “at least $2,800 in federal and state grants to cover tuition and most fees at any of the state’s 58 community colleges,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

“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, in a press release. “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 governor is using GEER funding, which stands for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund. All in, Cooper is spending $51.4 million. That money includes the $31.5 million for the Longleaf Commitment program focused on high school seniors. Additional details on how to apply will be available here.

Another $12.5 million will be focused on college students “whose education has been interrupted during the pandemic.” This funding, called the Longleaf Complete, can be used by UNC System students, North Carolina community college students, or students at independent colleges and universities to help them complete their degree.

Those two programs apply to the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, according to the press release.

Cooper is also putting another $5 million of GEER funding into the expansion of mental health services in the UNC System and other education sectors, and “$2.4 million into equity-focused initiatives for K-12 and postsecondary students and families.”

“Students and educators across our state have faced challenges both inside and outside the classroom over the course of the pandemic,” said Cooper in the press release. “The GEER funds announced today 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.” 

Cooper’s plan for the GEER funds dovetails with his proposal for spending $5.4 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds. That plan includes $835 million in college scholarships and grants, including $350 million to guarantee at least $6,000 for families making $60,000 or less to cover expenses related to attending either a UNC institution or state community college. In contrast to the GEER funds, however, the American Rescue Plan funds will need to be allocated by the General Assembly before coming to Cooper for his sign off.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.