ANNAPOLIS – Community colleges may be able to provide more financial aid to their neediest students as a result of a measure passed Wednesday by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
In particular, the commission plans on expanding the Educational Assistance Grant, one piece of the state’s primary need-based grant program, by raising the maximum award and increasing the percentage of aid for low- to moderate-income students.
Many students who would be able to receive those grants if they attended either a four-year public or private institution cannot receive one at a community college. The commission anticipates that the funding boost will help those students.
“The notion was that community colleges can have students with lower average incomes than students who attend four-year institutions. We need to recognize the higher hurdles that they face even though the cost of tuition is less than a four-year college,” said MHEC Chairman Kevin O’Keefe.
A student trying to save money may have trouble attending higher education for want of a small amount of financial aid, said Janice Doyle, MHEC finance policy assistant secretary.
“If a student (doesn’t) have a lot of money, we set up a situation where we never fill the gap, ever, and the question becomes is that advisable?” said Doyle.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s fiscal year 2007 budget provides a $17.4 million increase for the Educational Excellence Award program, of which the Educational Assistance Grants are a part. Changes to the budget by the General Assembly could affect the grants.
When students apply for financial aid, they receive a worksheet showing the estimated cost of tuition and cost of living minus federal financial aid and parent contributions. If the student’s costs are still higher, the state pays a percentage up to $2,700.
The percentage paid through EAG for community college students is 45 percent, however checks are not issued for amounts lower than $400.
While a student may choose community colleges because they cost less than a public or private four-year university, that student could be ineligible for the grant.
The commission intends to boost the percentage paid for community college students to 60 percent of those fees up to $3,000, but still not less than $400.
Grants for four-year institutions also would increase under the MHEC proposal, from 35 percent to 40 percent.
“You are always going to have people who fall out of the edges on this process, you will, because we are not filling the whole gap. It would be nice if we filled up 100 percent but we don’t. It would cost a lot of money,” Doyle explained.
Mindy Schaffer, financial aid director at Chesapeake Community College, said these grants make a huge difference for many students. She said the community college is often crucial step for many students toward getting a full bachelor’s degree.
“They didn’t come to Chesapeake just to stop.”
– 30 – CNS-2-15-06