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- Central Piedmont Community College's Opportunity Scholarship funds underrepresented students for tuition, books, and fees for two years, and provides students with one-on-one academic coaching.
- "My experience has been amazing. I've always felt welcome. Especially being an opportunity scholar, that opened up so many more doors," said Central Piedmont graduate Tyler Jackson.
The summer after Tyler Jackson graduated from high school, he took two college courses through Central Piedmont Community College’s Summer Bridge program, meant to help students successfully transition from high school to college.
After one of the orientation sessions Jackson attended, a college staff member dismissed all participants but the “opportunity scholars.” Jackson was not an opportunity scholar at the time and he knew little about the program, but he was curious, so he decide to stay behind and learn more. That decision led to Jackson applying for – and eventually receiving – the scholarship he says changed his life.
“Central Piedmont has opened so many doors,” Jackson said in a college promotional video. “They cared more about who I was as a person. Being able to go to school without having to worry about the cost – I’m just grateful.”
Jackson is one of nearly 400 opportunity scholars Central Piedmont Community College has served since it launched the program in 2017, according to college data last fall. Through the Opportunity Scholarship, students underrepresented in college receive funding to fully cover tuition, books, and fees for two years. In addition, these students receive a notebook computer and access to one-on-one academic coaching for career planning, internships, and job placement.
This support was key for his success, said Jackson, who graduated with an associate of arts degree in December. During the start of the pandemic and remote learning, college staff members kept him from “falling through the cracks.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” he told EdNC. “And my experience has been amazing. I’ve always felt welcome. Especially being an opportunity scholar, that opened up so many more doors – being able to sit in different meetings, visit different places, and being able to have exposure to these things I wouldn’t have probably had if I wasn’t an opportunity scholar.”
The total number of Opportunity Scholarships offered per year varies based on available funding provided by local donors, the college’s website says. You can learn more about the scholarship and how to apply here. You can learn about N.C. Community College System (NCCCS) scholarships here.
‘What community college can do’
Many community college students – some of them adult learners, low income, or first-generation college-goers – experience various barriers that can make academic success more difficult. In recent years, North Carolina community colleges have increasingly added support to help their students stay in college.
Community college leaders say meeting the financial, transportation, and child care needs of students helps them complete their programs.
About 48% of N.C. Community College students complete a degree or credential in six years, based on 2022 data from myFutureNC. That rate is lower for students ages 21-24 (38%), Black students (30%), and part-time students (20%).
In comparison, nearly 150 opportunity scholars have graduated from Central Piedmont since 2017. That’s a 53% completion rate for cohorts through 2020-21, each before the six-year completion target used by myFutureNC. This success rate is in spite of the fact that many opportunity scholars face more barriers to completion compared to the general community college population. The majority of scholars in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 cohorts can graduate starting this year.
Dr. Kandi Deitemeyer, president at Central Piedmont, said the Opportunity Scholarship is one of many ways the college is working to expand its impact – on students, the economy, and the wider community.
Central Piedmont adds $827.7 million to the economy each year, according to a recent economic impact study, and supports 11,274 jobs. For every dollar students invest in their education at Central Piedmont, they gain $3.80 in lifetime earnings.
“The college helps students increase their employability and achieve their individual potential,” Deitemeyer said in a release. “Central Piedmont provides students with the education, training, and skills they need to have fulfilling and prosperous careers that provide real economic mobility.”
Dr. Deninne Pritchett, the college’s chair of psychology, understands that economic mobility well.
Pritchett first started college as a teen mother, at 18. She dropped out of college four times – and once from Central Piedmont – before returning to successfully graduate from the college in 2010 with an associate degree in art.
“When I arrived at Central Piedmont, there was something different here,” she said. “Even the first time when I didn’t stay, there was something different, which led me to come back.”
Pritchett, who went on to earn a doctorate in psychology, is now the creator of the Adjunct Faculty Learning Community and facilitator for the Diversified Teaching Practices Learning Commons at the college. She also earned an American College and University Educators (ACUE) Advanced Certificate for Teaching Effectiveness and is a featured expert in an ACUE course on learner-centered, equitable teaching practices.
“It just seems like this is what I’m supposed to be doing, because this is where my foundation was set,” Pritchett said.
Today, in addition to teaching students psychology, Pritchett aims to make them feel welcomed, understood, and empowered.
She believes that one interaction can change everything, because for her, it did. The last time she enrolled at Central Piedmont, it was a kind financial aid advisor who made her believe in herself.
“I’m a representative of what community college can do for you,” Pritchett said. “It’s like a full-circle moment – that I don’t sit high and look low, this is a partnership for me to support students to get wherever they want to get to, whatever that goal is.”
For Tyler Jackson, his goal of graduating college expanded to studying abroad while at Central Piedmont and joining student government – goals he achieved without stressing about money, thanks to the scholarship program. After graduating with his associate degree debt-free, he feels well-positioned to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business and media at UNC Charlotte. In the meantime, he’s applied to be a substitute teacher at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, in addition to working at his production company and promoting his film, “LoverBoy The Movie.” He’s also dreaming about becoming a full-time entertainer – acting, filmmaking, and directing – or a professor in the arts.
For him, programs like the Opportunity Scholarship are important because they help first-generation and low-income students “seek better” for themselves. Today, he also works as a tutor coordinator at TRIO, Upward Bound – the program that initially connected him to Central Piedmont’s Summer Bridge program – where he aims to be like the mentors he found at Central Piedmont to younger students.
Jackson is grateful for where he is following graduation and is excited for his future and his career. But, what if he decides to pursue something completely different?
“I can also always come back to Central Piedmont,” he said. “It’s a place where I’ve always felt at home.”