Governor hopes 'Finish Line Grants' help close gap between jobs posted and skills needed

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WTVD) -- Winter break isn't a vacation for everyone.

"Any parent doesn't get a winter break," Mary Alice Moore, a web designer in Wake Forest, said. "You do what you can to work and further your learning."

A few years ago, Moore enrolled at Wake Technical Community College to pursue a degree in web development and design. She and her husband would go on to have a son (that was planned), but then the pandemic happened (that wasn't). Now facing child care challenges, Moore chose to forego work to spend time at home, but while doing so, she had to stop her studies because she lost her expendable income.

"It was entirely too difficult," Moore said. "I wasn't getting sleep and I knew I was going to do poorly in class. So it was drop out or get dropped out."

So the dream of a career was about to be put on hold until Moore got an email from Wake Tech about a special government program that could give her the boost she needed: a Finish Line Grant.

First introduced in 2018, the Finish Line Grant program offers applicable students up to $1,000 per semester to help complete their degree or certification at any of North Carolina's 58 community colleges of 23 workforce development boards. As of last spring, more than 3,000 students--including Moore--have received the grants, and 84% of them have graduated.

"Without it I'd still just be trying to keep up being super mom and maybe five or 10 years from now achieving my dream of getting in the field I want to be in," Moore said of the grant she received. "It's hard when your pride is on the line but reach out because these people want to help you."

COVID19 impact on Community Colleges

Just as the pandemic changed how Americans approached work, colleges and universities might also need to get with the program.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollments in all post-secondary education declined 2.5% in fall 2020, nearly double the rate a year earlier. In spring 2021, the drop was even more dramatic: 3.5%, or 603,000 students. A study from the federal government is also showing similar trends.

The pandemic's effect was most pronounced in community colleges, which reported a decrease of 9.5% - and it couldn't come at a worse time.

"Nurses, truck drivers, computer technicians - there are all kinds of things in demand," Governor Roy Cooper told ABC11 in a one-on-one interview. "The health care field and the technical jobs involved with it is exploding because North Carolina is becoming a place where these companies are coming."

Indeed, an earlier I-Team investigation found a mismatch between the jobs people want and the skills needed to fill the jobs people available.

According to Cooper, he came up with the idea for the grant program after speaking with students and professors who shared with him several reasons why people weren't completing their studies, including child care issues, medical emergencies or other unexpected financial burdens.

"A car repair bill shouldn't keep you from a career," Cooper insisted. "What we thought about is can we find a way to help students who run into last minute problems to finish their degree or credential?"

There is more than $7 million in funds available for the grants, which are still available until 2022. To learn more or apply, click here.
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