Golden LEAF Scholarship COVID-19 Fund helps rural community college students succeed despite pandemic

Anchored in communities across the state are the 58 community colleges that comprise one of the most comprehensive workforce development systems in the country. Community colleges will serve as one of the catalysts for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Golden LEAF is a strategic partner providing funding for equipment and infrastructure necessary for essential workforce programs as well as scholarships for rural students to attend and gain skills necessary for available jobs.

At the April 2020 Board meeting, just as the pandemic’s impacts were becoming known, Golden LEAF awarded $500,000 to the North Carolina Community College System to support community college students dealing with the effects of the pandemic. Participating community colleges used these funds to help those adversely affected by COVID-19, by the loss of employment or childcare or as new needs arose such as a computer or reliable internet. These scholarships made a difference in the lives of students working to get the skills needed to find good-paying jobs.

Robeson Community College deployed $16,991 to assist 69 students with financial needs ranging from childcare, housing, groceries, technology, and equipment needs. The college allocated each student needing funds approximately $250.

Decarius McKeithan

Decarius McKeithan of Tar Heel in Bladen County was finishing his A.A.S. Medical Office Administration degree this summer at Robeson Community College. He was personally affected by the pandemic when his grandfather was diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Being selected as a recipient of the funding helped my household tremendously,” said McKeithan. “Without this scholarship, I would not have been able to focus on my grandfather’s recovery and my education with the same intensity because I would have been worried about finances.”

McKeithan used the funding to help pay bills, buy groceries, and meet other household needs.

“Since graduation, I decided to return to school to pursue Surgical Technology,” said McKeithan. “Now, I can continue to work part-time as an Administrative Assistant in the Admissions Office and pursue my educational endeavors at Robeson Community College.”

The Golden LEAF Scholarship COVID-19 Fund serves community college students who live in eligible rural counties that are tobacco-dependent or economically distressed, demonstrate financial need, and have been affected by COVID-19, during the current academic year.

Southwestern Community College used $16,991 to assist 26 students with financial hardships related to the pandemic.

Samantha Schubert

Samantha Schubert of Franklin County was finishing her Medical Sonography degree this summer, when she lost her job due to the pandemic.

“I was really close to graduation when I received the funding,” said Schubert. “The funding helped me cover living expenses so I could finish my degree.”

Community colleges moved their instruction to an online format when the pandemic hit, and most face-to-face classes were suspended. These changes combined with other challenges, such as increasing unemployment, created financial barriers for many students.

Wilson Community College deployed $8,496 to support 10 students in need of funds for things like food, childcare, living expenses, and computer expenses.

Joy Moore

Joy Moore of Wilson was finishing her Associate of Arts degree this summer. She needed reliable internet service to finish her classes virtually.

“Without the funding, I would not have been able to complete my degree,” said Moore. “It was very important that I finish my degree because my daughter really struggles in school, and I wanted to prove to her that she can do anything she sets her mind to.”

Moore had worked very hard to get to her final semester, just to have to move from face-to-face classes to online instruction.

“The scholarship helped me to get the proper internet service at my home,” said Moore. “Being able to finish my degree during COVID while at home with my daughter watching me, just made it all the long hours and late nights worth it. Finishing my degree will also help me grow within my job.”

Moore works at Wilson Community College in the financial aid office. Her Associate of Arts degree has allowed her to take on more responsibilities.

Students at 36 of N.C.’s 58 community colleges were provided the support they needed through the Golden LEAF Scholarship COVID-19 Fund to help finish their classes despite the pandemic. To find a N.C. community college near you, click here.

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