Scholarship bill could relieve financial stress for AACC students

Rachael Pacella
Contact Reporterrpacella@capgaznews.com

This spring Jonathan O’Dea will graduate from Anne Arundel Community College nearly maxed out on student loans, he said.

O’Dea, the college’s Student Government president, is headed to Towson University this fall to study political science. Many careers require a higher education credential, he said. But taking on debt is a high-stress situation for students.

This past General Assembly session, O’Dea testified to support a bill sponsored by Howard County Del. Frank Turner. The bill was approved by the General Assembly and sent to Gov. Larry Hogan.

The legislation would create a Maryland Community College Promise Scholarships Program, giving qualified students up to $5,000 annually, at a cost of $15 million a year to the state. To qualify, students will need to have a high school grade point average of 2.3 or higher, enroll within two years of obtaining a high school diploma or GED, and would need to take 12 credit hours of courses.

A promise scholarship applicant can’t have an annual adjusted gross income of more than $100,000 if they are single or living in a single-parent household, or $150,000 if they are married or living in a two-parent household.

In April AACC officials declined to say how many students the bill could impact, absent the governor’s signature and additional guidance on eligibility criteria.

The program would offer “last dollar” scholarships, meaning the state will award funds to students after all other financial options are pursued. The legislation would also provide $2 million over five years for grants to help current students finish their degrees, at community colleges and four-year institutions.

The Maryland Association of Community Colleges has said the measure will more than double state scholarship money for low-income community college students.

The path from orientation to graduation can be a rocky one, Financial Aid Director Tara Carew said.

Some students begin their college careers thinking they have their financing in place, but lose a job or otherwise have their financial situation disturbed, making it difficult to complete school, she said.

“That’s where additional funding would be very helpful,” she said.

O’Dea said some students need to work a full-time job or multiple jobs during school, drawing out the amount of time they’re enrolled.

The legislation, particularly the Community College Promise Scholarships, would decrease the amount of time, stress and debt involved in getting an education, he said.

After the bill was passed in April, the college issued a statement supporting the measure.

“Each year we find that more and more students need financial assistance to start or continue college,” college President Dawn Lindsay said.

The community college is cost-effective, she said, but students need to juggle work and family demands, and can have trouble making ends meet. Next year tuition at the school will cost $112 per credit hour for county residents.

Carew said students have options for financial assistance, including state and federal assistance. The Anne Arundel Community College Foundation offers more than 200 scholarships to students.

But there’s never enough funding for everyone, she said.

Under Hogan, state support for community college funding and grant funding for community colleges hit a record level, Amelia Chassé said in an email.

“Additionally, in 2017, the governor proposed legislation that would have made student debt interest payments tax-deductible for all Marylanders earning less than $200,000 per year and provided much-needed relief from student loan debt,” she said.

The scholarship legislation was sent to Hogan on April 26. The governor has 30 days to veto the bill, sign it, or allow the legislation to become law.

The Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this report.

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