Students interested in a variety of workforce training programs can now go to Martin Community College (MCC) for one year for free, thanks to their new Career in a Year initiative.
Using a combination of federal, state, and foundation dollars, MCC is offering free tuition and fees for students who enroll in programs designed to be completed in one year that lead to an entry-level job. These programs include automotive systems technology, early childhood education, information technology, nurse aide, paramedic, welding, and more. See the full list of eligible programs here.
Statewide, community colleges saw enrollment declines of 11% in fall 2020 compared to fall 2019 as students struggled to balance life, work, and school in a pandemic. Enrollment declines were particularly steep among workforce training courses: Enrollment in workforce training dropped 22% from the previous fall while curriculum courses dropped 6%.
Now, over a year into the pandemic, community colleges are hoping grants and scholarships, like Career in a Year, will encourage new and returning students to enroll this fall.
In May, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the Longleaf Commitment Grant, which gives 2021 North Carolina high school graduates from low- and middle-income families $700 to $2,800 per year for tuition and fees at one of the state’s 58 community colleges. Several community colleges have extended the Longleaf Commitment Grant to include all 2021 North Carolina high school graduates regardless of financial need, including MCC.
But MCC also wanted to do more to attract adult learners, not just recent high school graduates, which is the motivation behind Career in a Year.
“We needed to do more for adult learners here,” said MCC President Wesley Beddard. “This career in a year with free tuition and free fees, we’re targeting toward basically folks out of high school, adult learners, a lot of them have been out for a number of years.”
To determine which programs to include in Career in a Year, Beddard’s team looked at the workforce training programs eligible for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) scholarships. These scholarships provide $750 to students in a number of short-term workforce training programs leading to high-demand careers.
In addition to the programs that qualify for the GEER scholarship, MCC looked at curriculum courses where students could get a certificate or diploma in one year that leads to an entry-level job.
While they only announced Career in a Year recently, Beddard said they are already seeing increased interest from adult students. Just last week, they received 21 applications for Career in a Year, which is about 10% of their adult student enrollment, Beddard said.
“We’re seeing people who hadn’t really thought about going to college … but when you start talking jobs and careers, ‘Oh, well, yeah, I might be interested in doing that,'” said Beddard.
Vanessa Tripp, MCC’s director of admissions, counseling, and student support services, said they’ve seen a lot of interest from retirees who are looking for a second career or just something to keep their brains active.
“I think for a lot of them, it seemed doable because it was career in a year,” Tripp said. “It seemed like something that they could access without a lot of the rigor that is sometimes in some of our programs that require a lot of English and math.”
They’ve also seen an increase in parent and student visits, Tripp said. MCC sent a letter to every 2021 high school graduate in their service area advertising the Longleaf Commitment Grant.
Beddard said that regardless of the number of applications, Career in a Year has brought positive attention to the college.
“If nothing else, it created a buzz to get people here,” Beddard said. And getting people in the door is half the battle, he said.
It’s also having a positive effect on Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rates and the culture around completing the FAFSA, Tripp said. Because they are requiring students to complete the FAFSA to receive free tuition and fees, many students who wouldn’t have completed it previously are doing so now.
Chief Academic Officer Tabitha Miller said while this program is designed to get students credentials that lead to entry-level jobs, she hopes it serves as a stepping stone to a degree.
“While we are promoting the career in a year, the hope is that we create lifelong learners as well, and that they continue, once they get through a career and get settled, they come back to us and finish out their degree programs,” Miller said.
As of now, Career in a Year is only available this academic year, but Beddard and Miller said they hope to continue it if they can secure funding.