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Initiative To Examine Student Success At Community Colleges

WARREN (WWJ) - Do low-income college students who receive public benefits stay in school longer and complete their studies faster?

Benefits Access for College Completion (BACC) is a three-year, $4.84 million initiative that will launch next summer at select community colleges to test this notion and work to provide models that other community colleges can implement and sustain.

Each year, 7.1 million students attend community colleges. While tuition costs are significantly lower than those at four-year public institutions, other costs of attending community college are still substantial.

During the last academic year, the cost for an undergraduate student to attend community college was approximately $14,637, compared to $20,339 at a four-year university. Of those who attend community colleges, 46 percent currently receive some form of financial aid.

While financial aid can help cover costs, community college students receive comparatively little financial support. This leads many students to work more hours at their job and attend college part-time to reduce their unmet financial need -- often delaying their graduation progress.

Several low-income community college students turn to public benefits and refundable tax credits to help fill the gap between financial aid and the resources needed to attend college.

BACC will explore whether community college students receiving public benefits are better able to meet the true cost of a college degree so they are able to remain in school, succeed in postsecondary education and improve their job prospects.

Macomb Community College and Lake Michigan Community College -- which developed plans to improve the provision of information, screening and application assistance to students through the Michigan Benefits Access Initiative -- will contribute their perspectives to BACC.

Other colleges selected for the BACC planning phase are: Cuyahoga Community College (OH), Gateway Community and Technical College (KY), Owensboro Community and Technical College (KY), LaGuardia Community College (NY), Northampton Community College (PA) and Skyline College (CA).

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.

The hope is 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.

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