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500 Baltimore public school students accepted in free community college program

More than 500 Baltimore public school students will go to community college for free in the first year of the city’s “last-dollar scholarship program.”

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, who announced the free community college plan last year, said the program provides “clear pathways for our young people and to put them in reach of their higher aspirations.”

Since much of community college tuition is already paid for through federal grants, the city generally covers a few hundred dollars per student under the mayor’s plan. About 92 percent of community college students already receive Pell Grants, which pay for the bulk of their tuition.

Pugh’s budget this year earmarked $500,000 to help pay for free community college.

To qualify, students had to show they graduated from a Baltimore public school and had applied for existing financial aid programs. The city also required the students to participate in a summer program provided by the organization BridgeEdu, which coaches students through their transition into college life.

Students must maintain a 2.0 grade-point average while enrolled at Baltimore City Community College.

The five-week coaching program was paid for through YouthWorks, the city’s summer jobs program and donations from CASA, the immigrant advocacy group.

After earning their Associate’s Degree from Baltimore City Community College, students who graduated from Baltimore public schools can receive a four-year degree free of charge. Coppin State University has offered “last-dollar scholarships” to those students under their recently launched Finish4Free program.

Efforts to make community college free have gained momentum across the nation, particularly as the cost of four-year colleges soars out of reach for many families. Baltimore is now one of 200 programs in 40 states in which tuition and fees for community college students are waived, particularly for recent graduates, according to the College Promise Campaign, which advocates for the expansion of such programs.

Gov. Larry Hogan this year signed a bill offering a chance for a free community college education to thousands of Marylanders. Under legislation passed in the final minutes of this year’s General Assembly session, the state would spend $15 million a year on scholarships worth as much as $5,000 to low- and middle-income students starting their community college educations.

The measure also called for allotting about $2 million over five years for grants to help cover tuition for older students who are close to finishing degrees and need financial help.

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com

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