Free tuition program unavailable to students

Student enrollment at St. Clair County Community College decreased by 3.8 percent this year.

Funds not allocated to MichiganWorks! this year by Michigan’s “No Worker Left Behind” free tuition program has left MichiganWorks! without funds needed to accept new eligible adults into the program.

NWLB free tuition program aims to help adults who are either unemployed or working in low-income jobs, $40,000 or less, earn a degree at a Michigan community college, or pay for two years of tuition at a four-year university.

It was “such a rad alternative. We’re all different, we need different ways to progress,” said La Tia Cooper of Port Huron, a sophomore majoring in accounting. “I think it gave people hope, a second chance. You’re not unemployed or employed, you could be a student.”

Enrollment spiked in the fall of 2009 when the economy fell, according Shawn Starkey, Executive Director of Public Relations at SC4.

Starkey said there is a pattern of increased enrollment during times when the economy is bad.

Enrollment from fall 1991, to fall 2011. Figures do not include students that have not registered as of Sept. 5, 2011, for eight and 12 week classes for fall 2011.  Graph provided by: SC4 Registrar.

Enrollment from fall 1991, to fall 2011. Figures do not include students that have not registered as of Sept. 5, 2011, for eight and 12 week classes for fall 2011. Graph provided by: SC4 Registrar.

“We (SC4) expected and prepared for it,” said Starkey, referring to the decrease in enrollment this year.

While funds not allocated to the NWLB free tuition program, SC4 has provided students with alternatives to help pay for their tuition with various scholarships, grants and other financial aid.

“We’ve worked with the ones who requested assistance, but we did not get many requests,” said Starkey.

While the halt in NWLB funding has contributed to SC4’s enrollment decline, SC4 also expected a decline in enrollment due to fewer K-12 students enrolled in local schools, and the population decline in St. Clair County, according to Starkey.

While exact numbers of student participants in the free tuition program are not trackable, due to the individuality of each person’s financial background and for privacy reasons, Starkey estimated that a few hundred participated.

Starkey said that most students in the program completed their degrees last spring, and a few are finishing up this semester.

“I think you can say it is not the reason for the decline, it was the reason for the spike (in the fall 2009 enrollment),” said Starkey.

There are still opportunities for people who need financial assistance to attend college. Students can apply for scholarships and grants they qualify for by contacting the Financial Aid Office.

Travis McBride

Staff Writer

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