Free community college. This was a pledge of President Barack Obama, and it was talked about a lot on the 2016 campaign trail.
But then it fell off the national radar screen.
It didn’t fall off Mo Denis’ screen, though.
The Nevada state senator sponsored a bill this session to make community colleges free through a scholarship program called The Nevada Promise Plan. It fills in the gaps when other scholarships fall short.
“It’s a great program because it’s not necessarily geared toward the highly-motivated student, but the student who perhaps didn’t even think they could go to college because they couldn’t afford it," State Sen. Denis said. "Their grades weren’t good enough this is going to give all of those kids an opportunity to go.”
Here is how the scholarship would work: First, students need to apply for federal financial aid through the FASFA program. Then, they need to get a mentor through the community college or the Clark County School District. Finally, they need to do 20 hours of community service each year. If they tick all of those boxes, they'll get the scholarship.
“This is going to change the way people see access to community colleges and higher education,” said Michael Flores, communications and government affairs director for the College of Southern Nevada.
Flores said Nevada leaves about $14 million in federal student aid on the table because students simply do not apply for it. Under this plan, that money will be claimed because students have to apply for it to get the extra boost in funding from the Promise scholarship.
“In Tennessee — that’s where this legislation is modeled from — they saw a huge increase of federal funds coming to the state because students were applying for financial aid and getting that,” he said.
Tennessee communities are also seeing an increase in people doing community service to get the scholarship.
Denis said it the scholarship help students who don't get quite enough money from Pell Grants to pay for all of college. Many of those students have to get full-time jobs, which means graduation takes longer and they are more likely to drop out. This scholarship program allows students to focus on school and finish on time, Denis said.
Mo Denis, Nevada State Senator; Michael Flores, communications and government affairs director, College of Southern Nevada