On the afternoon of Thursday, January 16, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper made his way to Alamance Community College to discuss one of his signature initiatives - the Finish Line Grants program.The Finish Line Grants program helps community college students who face unforeseen financial emergencies to complete their education. Cooper chose to visit ACC because the school was one of the first around the state to come on board with the program in the fall of 2018.
“This is such a great place to live - Alamance County. Situated strategically between the Triad and the Triangle. You all are taking every advantage of that, providing a great workforce for the employers out there,” the Governor said in front of a large group of local media and assembled dignitaries, including ACC President Dr. Algie Gatewood and North Carolina Community College System President Peter Han.
The Finish Line Grants assists students who come up against unexpected difficulties such as car breakdowns, medical bills, or other hardships.
“So many of the people here in North Carolina and across the country, for that matter, are living on the edge,” Cooper said. “Particularly when you have to pay tuition and fees, and work at the same time and support a family. Sometimes a financial bump in the road can throw you completely off track.”
Cooper told a story about a college student who was forced to make a choice between getting her car repaired in order to get to her job, or pay the tuition to complete her final semester. She went to a member of the school’s faculty, and the faculty took up a collection to pay the student’s car so she could pay her tuition and fees and complete her degree.
“That got me to thinking. I bet you there are a lot of students out there who run into these problems,” Cooper said. “And we came up with the idea of the Finish Line Grants - rewarding hard-working students who are on track to finish their degree who run into a financial bump in the road. The Finish Line Grants help them get over that bump in order to finish the degree.”
The Governor explained that the grant program makes fiscal sense because the money used is put directly back into local communities in the form of payments to local auto repair shops, doctors and medical clinics, and daycare centers, among other businesses.
“It’s fiscally responsible to the taxpayers, because the Finish Line Grants pays that doctor or that car repair person, or that utility bill that has socked them in the gut,” the Governor explained. “Making sure that gets done so the student can get finished. The Finish Line Grants have allowed students to get degrees and get a better-paying job. I’ve heard stories from so many people about car repair or childcare emergencies, where they’ve been able to come in to get this Finish Line Grant.”
Governor Cooper last visited the Alamance Community College campus back in the winter of 2019, where he sat down with ACC students in a roundtable discussion to promote this same program. ACC was among the first community colleges to kick off its Finish Line Grants program in the fall of 2018.
“We want to show the country and the rest of the world that North Carolina gets it,” Cooper said. “That education is the key to opportunity. It is the key to hope for families. This is why we’ve got to keep fighting for strong investments in education. Even the federal people who have looked at this have liked it a lot. And we think we may see this begin in other states.”
As of January 7, 2020, according to an ACC press release, the College had assisted 122 students with a total of 346 bills, resulting in $124,161.47 allocated to assist students through the Finish Line Grant program. Cooper indicated that his administration has made a goal that 2 million more North Carolinians between the ages of 25 and 45 get a post-secondary degree or credential in the next decade.
Brian Barringer coordinates the Finish Line Grants program at ACC, assisted by staff in the Student Success Office and Business Office. The College has partnered with the Workforce Development Board and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act staff to establish a joint process for reviewing and awarding funding requests from students. Throughout the state, over 3,000 students have taken advantage of Finish Line Grants to complete their degree requirements.
ACC students Rosalyn Chambers and Andrew Hann, who benefited from Finish Line Grant funding in order to stay in school, visited with Governor Cooper and told their stories during the press conference.
Rosalyn Chambers is studying Office Administration/Legal Concentration at ACC. Chambers explained how the Finish Line Grant helped her get through a variety of financial issues, including necessary dental work and auto repairs.
“I’m very grateful for the Finish Line Grant program. I’ve had challenges from almost the moment I started school. My second semester, my car broke down. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I could see the finish line in 2020 - no pun intended. And I wanted to see this through. But I had other students help me get to and from school, so that took care of my transportation issue,” Chambers explained.
“Later on, I had a problem. I needed some dental work. I had an abscess. The issue I was having was making it very difficult. I was feeling very uncomfortable and in pain, and struggling with my homework,” she added, indicating that a friend suggest she visit the Student Success Office on the ACC campus. “They were able to get me approved for the Finish Line Grant program that same day, and the next week I was sitting in the dentist’s office getting my dental work done. Not only did I have an abscess, but I needed a root canal. I was really contemplating, ‘Are you going to finish school? It really bothered me, because I did not want to stop coming to school, because I enjoyed it.”
“I can honestly say without that grant, I don’t know what I would have done, because that was a situation that could not be ignored. The Finish Line Grant really made a difference between me graduating in June 2020 (and not graduating). I’m happy that I was able to take advantage of the Finish Line Grant program,” Chambers continued.
Andrew Hann is enrolled in ACC’s Associate in Nursing program. The Finish Line Grant helped him with several past due bills and car repairs. This allowed him to work fewer hours and concentrate on his nursing studies. He acknowledges he could not have stayed in school without the use of his car, for which Finish Line paid a major repair bill.
“I do intend to graduate this coming June with my Associate’s Degree in Nursing,” Hann said as his wife and two young daughters listened on. “With the intense requirements of classroom study, and the time spent on clinical rotations, I’ve had to limit to about 20-25 hours a week. And I am the sole bread winner in my household. With my limited work schedule, I’ve had to prioritize my bills for the last two or three years when I’ve been in school.”
“Being a full-time parent, working hard to graduate, has not been easy. In August, my vehicle starting having some issues,” Hann continued, adding that Barringer informed him that ACC could assist him with up to $1,000 in automobile repair assistance. “That helped me. I didn’t have to make a decision whether to put food on the table, pay this bill, stay in school or what not. That was my only vehicle - my only means to get to school. The assistance provided by the Finish Line Grant has been a huge blessing.”