February 13, 2013
Community colleges across the country have seen a steep decline in enrollments this year for a few reasons. A recovering economy steering students toward jobs and budget cuts that have led to fee increases have played key roles but changes to federal Pell grant eligibility are most notable. According to a new study, community colleges in the Deep South have been hit hardest by the changes that took effect last year.
The study, by Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama director Stephen Katsinas, argues that community college enrollments in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi are highly sensitive to changes in the federal grant program. Enrollment in 47 of the 62 two-year colleges across the three states declined this past fall and more than 5,000 students lost Pell grants – a change that the report's authors say can be directly attributed to the changes in eligibility. Students are now limited to just six years of Pell grants, fewer students automatically qualify for the maximum grant because of a lower income cap for receiving an “automatic zero” expected family contribution and students without a high school diploma or GED are no longer eligible.
While many states have started to see their economies improve, that’s not the case for the three states included in the study. In fact, not only have their economies not recovered but state-supported student aid programs are much smaller, so colleges have fewer resources for low-income students who no longer qualify for Pell grants. Both Pell grants and community colleges are "vital to enhancing college degree completion in the Deep South, for it is the community colleges where economically disadvantaged students begin higher education," the study noted. The enrollment numbers were based on surveys of community college officials. All of the two-year colleges in the three-state region responded. However, the national enrollment data for 2012 hasn't been compiled yet, said David Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education.
We’re midway through February, which means it’s the perfect time to get your spring break plans in order! How will you spend your time off? Here are a few suggestions:
If you plan to travel, check out sites like StudentCity.com for information on Panama City, South Padre Island and other popular destinations. Take time to research different cities and their respective attractions but keep in mind that the sooner you finalize your plans, the cheaper your trip will be. You should also decide who you travel with (a responsible group of friends you can trust is key) and how you will get around (if you are not driving to your destination, realize you’ll have to walk, cab or take public transit once you’re there).
A vacation is not the only way to spend your spring break, as many universities have alternate spring programs that include volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations. If your school does not offer a program like this, check out UnitedWay.org to find an alternate spring break trip that suits you. You’ll be able to experience a new place while volunteering and helping the community: This year, they have one in Newark, NJ to help families rebuild after Hurricane Sandy.
Another idea could be a short-term internship. I spent my first spring break job shadowing a digital marketer in the entertainment industry and it was a great way to build my resume and get hands-on experience for a future career. Work hard and you could score an internship or job for the summer!
Spring break can be whatever you want it to be but the key element is planning. Don’t wait until the last moment; if you have nothing planned yet, then it’s time to get started!
Chelsea Slaughter is currently a junior at Jacksonville State University majoring in communications (public relations concentration) and minoring in art. She serves as a resident assistant on campus, is the treasurer in the Public Relations Organization and is an active member in W.I.S.E., NAACP and Omicron Delta Kappa Honors Leadership Society. She aims to work in the entertainment industry post-graduation and is well on her way thanks to an internship with a digital marketer to several music artists. Chelsea strives to achieve all of her goals and motivate others along the way.
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