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  ·   Reno Gazette Journal   ·  Link to Article

Nevada’s Promise: Free College means Skilled Graduates

Carlos Lara, a senior at the Academy of Arts, Careers & Technology (AACT) high school, wants to go to the University of Nevada (UNR) to study biology and then attend the School of Medicine.  But it may not happen.
 
“I’m applying for scholarships and grants,” say Lara, “but my parents make too much money to qualify for the federal Pell grant and too little to pay for my college tuition.”
 
By graduation, Lara will successfully complete a high school career and technical education (CTE) program to become certified as an Emergency Medical Technician, finish an internship, and earn a total of 12 college credits.
 
He will be the first in his family to go to college.
 
Thanks to the Nevada Promise Scholarship, approved in the 2017 legislative session and available to all 2018 graduating seniors, college can be a reality for Lara, allowing him to attend Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) for free to earn an Associate’s degree that he can transfer to UNR.
 
“This scholarship is an amazing opportunity for me and so many students in my class,” Lara said.  “I can get all my prerequisites completed at TMCC with no out-of-pocket costs to my parents and still work to save money for UNR after that.”
 
Students and Employers Benefit
 
Modeled after the Tennessee Promise, Nevada Senator Mo Dennis and other democratic senators proposed the scholarship opportunity to make college more accessible to students who might not attend because of financial challenges or work and family obligations. Budgeted to provide $3.5 million in tuition assistance, the Nevada Promise Scholarship is an investment in the next generation of skilled workers that will power the state’s economy.
 
Nate Mackinnon, Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges for the Nevada System of Higher Education, says that the legislature was wise to put this forth as a way to support students and strengthen the pipeline of employees for Nevada’s “middle skill” jobs.
 
This rapidly expanding segment of the workforce accounts for over 50% of all jobs in Nevada and nationwide, according to the National Skills Coalition.  These jobs require more than a high school diploma and less than a four-year university degree, instead focusing on technical skills and industry certifications.
 
Mackinnon says the Nevada Promise scholarship is a powerful first step to preparing students for these jobs.  “There’s still a lot of work to do to increase college-bound graduates and increase graduation rates.”
 
Intended to complement Nevada’s existing merit and needs-based funding opportunities, as well as bridging the gap between federal aid and out-of-pocket expenses for college goers, the scholarship offers hope for students to go to college without taking on student loan debt.
 
“After all other gift aid is exhausted, the Nevada Promise Scholarship kicks in,” says Mackinnon, “covering the final registration costs that often represent an insurmountable barrier to students and parents.”
 
The Nevada Promise Scholarship provides tuition and fees not covered by federal or state aid at all of the state’s community colleges.
 
Increasing Value of Community College
 
As middle skill jobs continue to increase in Nevada, community colleges provide a valuable opportunity for students to gain a competitive edge in the job market.  The Nevada Promise scholarship means students can position themselves for a high-demand, well-paying job faster without going into debt.
 
TMCC, like all Nevada’s community colleges, has responded to the changing job demands by adding cutting edge programs aligned with regional needs.  They have particularly focused on flexible programs with “stackable” incremental credentials that allow students to work while completing the program – earning while they learn.  But program cost has remained a deterrent for new graduates.
 
Dr. Kyle Dalpe, Dean of Technical Sciences at TMCC, agrees.  “We’ve been using public and private scholarships to help bring more students into these programs, but the Nevada Promise Scholarship does more to help students intimidated by the cost factor.”
 
All TMCC programs qualify for the Nevada Promise Scholarship, but one of the fastest ways to a job in a high-demand field is to complete a certification of achievement  program, such as Advanced Manufacturing and Automation.  This certification, as with most others offered at TMCC, is part of an associate degree program (Advanced Manufacturing) where credits are stackable from the certificate of achievement into the associate’s degree. Also, general education and other credits may apply to a four-year university degree.
 
These academic pathways set students up for a skilled job that can lead to a successful career.  An Advanced Manufacturing certificate or degree, for example, arms students with the technical know-how to control complex interrelated mechanical and electronic control systems and equipment.  Students are prime candidates for emerging jobs at the Gigafactory, which is pushing to hire 1,000s of technicians by the end of the year and going forward.
 
Says Mackinnon of the Nevada Promise scholarship and the access it provides to a free community college education, “If a student is graduating by Spring 2018, taking advantage of this scholarship should be their next step. It only takes 90 seconds to fill out the application form.”
 
CTE + Promise = Success
 
But success in today’s job market starts before graduation, says Dr. Dana Ryan, director of Signature Academes and CTE for the Washoe County School District.  It begins with high school CTE programs that complement traditional academics by allowing students to learn technical skills and begin earning free college credits before they graduate.
 
Combining CTE with the Nevada Promise scholarship offers a huge advantage for students.
 
“It will motivate our CTE students to continue on to TMCC to finish a certification or degree program, which they can usually do in 18 months or less,” said Ryan.  “The scholarship is definitely a win-win-win – for students, parents and employers.”
 
Lara says he is grateful for the Nevada Promise scholarship because it guarantees he can continue to work toward his goal of being a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon.
 
“Every student graduating in 2018 should apply,” said Lara.  “The Promise scholarship provides an opportunity or a safety net – and either one moves you forward.”
 
Nevada Promise Scholarship Application Guidelines
 
Deadline:  October 31, 11:59 pm
 
1. Be part of the graduating class of 2018
 
2. Apply before the deadline (11:59 PM, October 31)
 
3. Attend a school training between November and December
 
4. Fill out a FAFSA to receive as much federal aid as eligible for
 
5. Meet with a mentor at least once before April 2017
 
6. Complete 20 hours of community service before April 2017
 
7. Attend college immediately following high school graduation
 
8. Enroll in at least 12 credits for Fall 2018
 
More information about the Nevada Promise Scholarship can be found on the TMCC website. http://www.tmcc.edu/nevada-promise-scholarship/
 
This story is produced and presented by the Washoe County School District. 
 
Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
 
Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
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