#28 of 30in30: Who wants free money to pursue a bachelor’s degree?

Virginia’s Two Year College Transfer Grant

(Updated 5/2/2012 to reflect elegibility requirements in approved legislation; EFC limit earlier proposed at $12,000; will be at $9,000 as of July 1, 2012).

Floating money

Unless you’ve been avoiding the news you know that college loan debt has been generating a lot of headlines.

“The average annual cost of a four-year institution now exceeds $20,000… outstanding student-loan debt surpasses $1 trillion… defaults are rising, economic growth is sluggish, and unemployment for those ages 20 to 24 is about 13 percent.”

But it doesn’t have to cost that much to earn a bachelor’s degree, at least not in Virginia.

So how can you do it without incurring lifelong debt payments? Simple, just follow these three steps:

  1. Begin your bachelor’s degree pursuit by spending your first two year earning an associate’s degree at your nearest Virginia Community College.
  2. Use one of the guaranteed transfer agreements your community college holds with more than 30 public and private universities.
  3. Take advantage of Virginia’s Two Year College Transfer Grants.

What is it?

Virginia’s Two Year College Transfer Grant was created by the Virginia General Assembly in 2007 to help defray the cost of community college graduates who continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree. You can earn up to $4,000 toward the cost of earning that bachelor’s degree:

  • Awarded to students enrolled at a participating four-year institution.
  • Maximum annual standard award is $1,000.
  • Additional $1,000 for students enrolled into a degree program in: science, teaching, engineering, mathematics, or nursing.
  • Reduced only if it results in an over award (total financial assistance is greater than the student’s Cost of Attendance) but can affect eligibility for state need-based aid.

Who is it helping?

According to the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia, here are the eligibility criteria:

  • Be a first-time entering freshman no earlier than fall 2007
  • Be an undergraduate in-state student.
  • Meet selective service requirements.
  • Have earned an Associate’s degree at a Virginia community college.
  • Have cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a scale of 4.0 for the Associate’s degree.
  • Enroll full-time into a Virginia four-year public or Virginia four-year private nonprofit college or university by the fall following completion of Associate’s degree.
  • Enroll into a degree program not for religious training or theological education.
  • Have applied for financial aid by completing the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the four-year institution’s deadline.
  • Have financial need: defined (as of July 1, 2012) as a federally calculated EFC of $9,000, or less.

Where is it offered?

The Two Year College Transfer Grant is available to students across Virginia.

What are we learning from it?

The grant program is so new that fewer than 10,000 students have taken advantage of it. We haven’t heard any complaints, however, from those who have. What’s not to like?

What does the future hold for it?

The 2012 General Assembly made a tweak in the eligibility formula that should make it easier for students from middle- and lower- income families to qualify for the grant. Henrico County state Senator Walter A. Stosch has been the grant’s biggest advocate and his fellow policymakers agree with his belief that this is a cost effective way to help students afford to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Editor’s Note: 30 Ways in 30 Days Virginia’s Community Colleges are Elevating Virginia is a month-long blog series dedicated to exploring some of the many creative and inspiring ways our colleges are helping people find and create opportunity. The series is part of the VCCS tribute to National Community College Month. To read more of the series just click on the “30 ways in 30 days” category.

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