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Do low-income college students who receive public benefits stay in school longer and complete their studies faster? A new initiative that will launch in the 2012 summer at select community colleges will test this notion and work to provide models that other community colleges can implement and sustain.
The three-year $4.84 million initiative, Benefits Access for College Completion (BACC), is led by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) with funding from the Ford Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is also contributing to the initiative.
“We are committed to student completion and appreciate the major investment these foundations are making,” AACC President Walter G. Bumphus said. “Their collaborative vision will help community colleges identify the best ways for students to access the benefits and services they need to finish what they start.”
LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow said the initiative is a “huge opportunity” to help “financially troubled students get the benefits they are eligible to receive” and to help “shape the policy environment.”
Of the close to 8 million credit students annually attending community colleges, 46% currently receive some form of financial aid (state, federal, or institutional). The additional benefits the students might access through BACC include a range of federal programs, such as those that provide health insurance, food, and child care. Such support services are especially critical for community college students, many of whom juggle work, studies, and family responsibilities.
Colleges selected for the BACC planning phase are: Cuyahoga Community College (OH), Gateway Community and Technical College and Owensboro Community and Technical College (KY), LaGuardia Community College (NY), Northampton Community College (PA), and Skyline College (CA). Macomb Community College and Lake Michigan Community College also will participate and share perspectives from similar work in Michigan.
During the initiative, participating colleges will become social innovators that integrate access to federal and state supports and other existing public resources into college operations, in some ways redefining the concept of financial aid and student supports. It is the hope that by working directly with local and state benefits administrators to eliminate policy barriers and align services, community colleges will help students finish their programs of study faster and move to economic self-sufficiency.
At the end of the initiative, the BACC team hopes to use lessons learned to expand what works across the nation’s more than 1,200 community colleges.