Community investment in…community – One student at a time.
Pine Technical and Community College (PTCC) has a unique option for their local students…free tuition. Through a combination of industry, public, and private donations, each area student at PTCC is able to attend a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program at no cost. I believe other colleges should take notice and consider pursuing a duplicative concept in their schools. It may not be easy, but it definitely could be worth the effort.
Along with industry and public financial support to fill in any missing financial gaps, a key part of the success of this program is an aggressive effort to find all available funding options for a student through federal grants, scholarships, and other available funding sources before using the private and public donations that have been earmarked to fill in the gap. It is these “last dollar” scholarships, combined with such a concentrated effort to find other funding sources, that are paramount to the success of the program.
Free tuition is available for both years of a typical college program, assuming the student maintains satisfactory student performance while attending. The funds specifically help students in CTE pathways, and also include an additional $1,000 a year for things like books and tools. As an additional consideration, the free tuition is only available to students that attended high school within a predetermined area around the college.
While some may think that this program helps defray costs for the students from more affluent households, the largest increases in enrollment actually come from 1st Generation and low-income sources. While there are many programs available for students from low-income families to attend college, many prospective students from these households are often not aware of the programs and see college as unobtainable. By being able to share that PTCC is free, it eliminates that perceived barrier, and encourages more students to apply and attend college than would have otherwise. It allows counselors and admission staff to front load the discussion… ”why wouldn’t you go to college, its free at PTCC.” Parents and students alike get a letter of acceptance and congratulations which helps engage the family and build community with the college.
Since CTE graduates often obtain gainful employment, attending PTCC is a way to lift these low-income students out of poverty and on to the path of financial independence. Because of this prospective and anticipated improvement, Pine County is one of the contributors to the final dollar scholarships. They believe that by investing in a local student’s CTE pathway, the county will reduce expenses in the long run by reduced expenses in welfare and low-income assistance costs. The county is currently using stimulus money to fund this project, but may consider moving it to a line item cost on their annual budget. The other funders of this project seem interested in continuing the relationship.
While some of the funders of the last dollar scholarships are known, the others have asked to remain anonymous. The one thing they have in common is the desire to help local student succeed. It is that sense of community that seems to fuel this concept and leads to its success. Local students do not typically need student housing. They are often able to stay at home while they attend college. The college works with local industry in regards to internships and students often go to work in the local community and thus contribute to the local economy.
While PTCC has some convincing enrollment data to indicate the success of this program in its first three years, they are looking into a more in-depth study of the project to demonstrate a more detailed success story. For now, we simply have enrollment and anecdotal evidence, but that evidence is truly promising. As one example of its success, 5 graduating seniors from a certain high school (with a graduating class of 50) attended PTCC 3 years ago. This year, that same high school (with a similarly-sized class) sent 26 students to PTCC. The program started with 20 students receiving free tuition. Now there are more than 100 per year.
An overview of these scholarships is also available here online . If you would like additional information, are interested in starting a program similar to this in your own school, or would like help or assistance with any other TCOE resource, please do not hesitate to contact us.