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Perspective | myFutureNC Blog Series: Helping community college students cross the finish line

North Carolina’s community college students often juggle jobs, family responsibilities, and long commutes as they work hard to finish their training and enter the workforce. Meanwhile, North Carolina employers need talented workers as soon as they can find them. When financial emergencies throw North Carolina students off track, our families, employers, and economy suffer.

In 2018, Governor Cooper launched the Finish Line Grants program to help students enter the workforce. Finish Line Grants provide community college students with up to $1,000 per semester to help pay for course materials, housing, childcare, or other financial emergencies. Students who have completed at least 50% of their program can apply, and workforce development boards and community colleges partner to administer the program.

In the year since the program launched, we’ve seen Gov. Cooper’s vision come to fruition. Finish Line Grants are now available at all 58 community colleges and 23 workforce development boards. More than 2,300 Finish Line Grants have helped students prepare to enter the workforce, totaling more than $1.5 million to date. Finish Line Grants have helped families replace threadbare tires, keep their heating on, and pay for costly medical procedures. Where schools have already tracked retention rates for Finish Line Grant recipients, the results are impressive. For example, at Southwestern Community College, 97% of Finish Line Grant recipients are still enrolled or have completed their training —well above the college’s overall 64% retention rate.

We’re hearing powerful stories from students that a small investment in their future allows them to make big strides in their careers. Alamance Community College student Todd Spivey credits a Finish Line Grant for helping him graduate on time and get a job as a machine operator despite a big hospital bill, and Stanly Community College student Taylor Ferree now works at Carolinas HealthCare System thanks in part to a Finish Line Grant.

But many more students remain at risk of dropping out before crossing the finish line. 

That’s why Gov. Cooper has proposed expanding Finish Line Grants to all North Carolina colleges and universities. Initiatives like Finish Line Grants are critical to achieving our statewide goal of 2 million North Carolinians with a postsecondary degree or credential. As Gov. Cooper continues to hear from businesses that their number one need is a well-trained workforce, he’ll continue to prioritize preparing these students.

Editor’s note: This perspective was first published by The Hunt Institute. It has been posted with the author’s permission.

Jessica Englert

Jessica Englert is a workforce development policy advisor with the Office of Governor Roy Cooper.