WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two Michigan community college are among seven nationwide to pilot new approaches to increase the number of students who earn post-secondary degrees.

Benefits Access for College Completion is a three-year, $4.84 million initiative funded by the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations, and managed by the Center for Law and Social Policy and the American Association of Community Colleges. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is also contributing to the initiative.

Macomb Community College and Lake Michigan college are participating in the program, as are Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, Gateway Community and Technical College in Kentucky, LaGuardia Community College in New York, Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania, and Skyline College in California.

BACC will help low-income students connect to coordinated income supports, including child care subsidies and food assistance. The initiative will be evaluated to see if low-income students who receive coordinated income supports stay in school longer and complete their studies more quickly.

Public supports and refundable tax credits can help low-income students, who now make-up 40 percent of the student population, fill the gap between financial aid and the resources needed to attend college. The initiative’s aim is to help students complete their studies swiftly and successfully and move into jobs earning family sustaining wages so they will be less likely to need such supports in the future.

According to the College Board, the average full-time community college student had more than $6,000 in unmet need in 2011-2012. The result is that 66 percent of young community college students work more than 20 hours per week to help pay for school and their home and family obligations, and 58 percent attend college part-time to accommodate work.

“In today’s economy, it’s more important than ever that students have the supports to earn a higher education so they can land better jobs and support their families,” said Evelyn Ganzglass, director of workforce development at CLASP. “Rising college costs mean an education is increasingly out of reach for millions. By combining traditional student financial aid with public supports, students are better positioned to get by and complete their education. And when more students earn credentials, more employers have the skilled workers they need, and the labor market is able to stay competitive.”

During the project’s planning phase, each college created its own plan to integrate screening and application assistance for public benefits with the services and supports that colleges already provide, like financial aid counseling. The colleges are partnering with local human services agencies to better provide these integrated services. Each one took into account local resources and policy contexts to develop strategies that will substantially assist students.

By the end of the grant period, the initiative will serve low-income students through these innovative plans, which include:
* Developing new campus centers and expanding existing ones that focus on helping students access the financial resources they need to complete college;
* Identifying innovative financing strategies to fund benefits screeners and facilitators on campus;
* Building information about publicly available supports into financial aid conversations;
* Partnering with state and county human services agencies to better serve students;
* Integrating existing online benefits screening tools into on-campus activities;
* Informing students about publicly available supports through existing meetings with college advisors;
* Raising awareness among faculty, staff and students of the existence of these supports; and helping counselors and other direct service staff provide technical support to students.

“We applaud these colleges for taking an informed and proactive look at how they can help those students most in need of financial and public support to pursue their college and career goals while dealing with work and family pressures,” AACC President Walter G. Bumphus said. “These benefits, including health insurance, food, and child care, as well as financial aid, can help them to complete credentials and get into well-paying jobs.”

The pilot period for this initiative will last from the fall 2012 semester through 2014, after which BACC will share the most successful strategies and lessons learned with policymakers and other community colleges nationwide to improve retention and credential completion.

“These institutions have stepped up with new and creative ideas to meet the financial needs of low-income college students,” said Ford Foundation Program Officer Chauncy Lennon. “This initiative will offer a space for experimentation to test whether delivering these supports on campus will ultimately increase the number of students who complete credentials, become skilled workers and succeed in our economy.”


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