Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper has directed $34 million in new federal funding to further support postsecondary students in completing their degree or credential and to help address K-12 student learning and mental health needs as students continue to recover from the pandemic.
The governor said $27 million will be invested in creating the Summer Accelerator grant program. The program will provide tuition assistance to public and private postsecondary students who take summer courses in order to accelerate or stay on track towards graduation.
“Many of the jobs of today and tomorrow require a degree or credential beyond high school,” Cooper said. “This funding will help students who lost ground during the pandemic to get back on track toward their degree and support K-12 students in need of mental health support.”
The Summer Accelerator grant program will provide grants up to $5,000 to cover tuition, fees, books, housing, and other expenses based on the number of summer courses a student is taking. To be eligible for a Summer Accelerator grant, a student must be a North Carolina resident for tuition purposes, enrolled in an academic program leading to a postsecondary degree or credential, and be working towards their first postsecondary degree or credential. Funds will be available for students who take courses during the summer of 2022 and 2023. Students interested in the program should contact their college’s financial aid office.
Funding for the Summer Accelerator program will be provided as grants to the UNC System, the NC Community College System (NCCCS), and independent colleges participating in state need-based grants through the State Education Assistance Authority (NC SEAA). The UNC System is receiving just over $16.3 million in funding and NCCCS and independent colleges (through NC SEAA) are each receiving just over $5.3 million in funding.
“For community college students who are balancing a job, family and college, the Summer Accelerator grants provide a lifeline to shorten their time to earn a degree and enter the job market,” said Thomas Stith, president of the N.C. Community College System. “These grants are critical, particularly at this time when our Great 58 community colleges around the state are helping fuel North Carolina’s job engine and growing economy.”
“The UNC System has set robust goals for on-time degree completion,” said UNC System President Peter Hans. “Now more than ever, students need our help to stay on track and cross the finish line, and summer school is a key opportunity for them to do so. We’re grateful to the Governor for his support of student success.”
“NCICU and our 36 independent colleges and universities deeply appreciate this innovative support for North Carolina students,” said Hope Williams, president of the NC Independent Colleges and Universities. “These funds will make it possible for students to catch up and accelerate progress toward their college degree as they recover from challenges created by the pandemic.”
Cooper first proposed a more robust version of the Summer Accelerator program in his American Rescue Plan Act budget recommendations using State Fiscal Recovery Funds. It is now the governor’s latest initiative to ensure higher education remains affordable and to develop a skilled workforce.
In addition to the Summer Accelerator grant program, the package also includes the following investments:
♦ $5 million to the NC Department of Health and Human Services to expand Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. Youth MHFA training teaches adults who work with youth, including teachers and school staff, how to identify and support youth ages 12-18 who are experiencing mental health and substance use challenges and how to help in crisis situations. The funds will be used to certify new Youth MHFA instructors across the state and provide in-person or virtual Youth MHFA training to public and non-public school staff and other community members involved in the lives of youth. This follows Governor Cooper’s investment of $40 million in GEER funds in August 2020 to K-12 public schools to help schools address students’ physical and mental health needs during the pandemic.
“We know the COVID-19 pandemic increased mental health and substance use issues for many North Carolinians,” said Kody H. Kinsley, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. “Recovering stronger together from this pandemic means prioritizing behavioral health and the well-being of our children and families. We are grateful for this investment in both areas which supports early intervention programs that will make a critical difference in many teenagers’ lives.”
♦ $1.7 million to the NC Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) to expand the Tech Team initiative. Tech Team is a student technology help desk program where students receive training on addressing information technology (IT) support issues and earn IT certifications recognized by employers. The students then serve in an IT support internship through their school district providing IT support and repair services to students and teachers. Currently, 10 school districts are operating Tech Team pilots. At least 263 students have participated in IT training through the pilots, with 68 of those students serving as IT interns in their school district.
♦$726,000 to the North Carolina Education Corps (NCEC) to help accelerate learning recovery for public school students through high-impact literacy tutoring provided in one-on-one or small group settings by “corps members.” The funding will be used to reimburse NCEC for expenses incurred in recruiting, training, and placing tutors with NC public schools since July 1, 2021, and to plan for the possible expansion into math tutoring during the 2022-23 school year. NCEC, which now operates as an independent non-profit, was launched in Fall 2020 as a new partnership between the North Carolina State Board of Education, the Office of the Governor, local school districts and the N.C. Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service. In August 2020, the Governor allocated $20 million in GEER funding to public schools to support the academic needs of at-risk students and students with disabilities. Many school districts are using these funds to hire NCEC corps members to support literacy tutoring for K-3 students.
Funding for these initiatives is from federal Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS) funds that have reverted to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund.