CoronavirusNews

Millions awarded in grant for returning students as Maricopa district fights enrollment decline

Mesa Community College students submitted 470 out of 2,293 responses to the Enrollment Pipeline survey. Photo by Monica Spencer/MesaCC Legend.
The Maricopa Community College District (MCCCD) Governing Board is allocating $13.5 million in funding for the new Maricopa Opportunity Grant to address the concerns of students not returning in fall for COVID-19 related concerns. The decision was made after a student survey, dubbed the Enrollment Pipeline Survey, revealed financial anxieties were one phenomena contributing to enrollment reductions reported for the fall semester.

The money, sourced from the district’s general fund reserve, will come in the form of “last dollar” scholarships that pay the remainder of a student’s bill after all other direct funding scholarships have been applied. Students who file a FAFSA form are automatically enrolled as an applicant.

In conjunction, MCCCD also initiated a district-wide discount on tuition for both Maricopa residents and out-of-state students. As of fall 2020, there is a $1,020 cap on tuition for Maricopa County residents taking 12 or more credit hours. Out-of-state residents will receive a discounted rate for the first six credit hours and a continued rate of $241 per credit hour for every following hour.

“The two programs are separate but coordinated,” said MCCCD Chief Communications Officer Matthew Hasson in an email response to the Legend questioning. “The grants are expenditures from the General Fund, and the tuition discounts are reductions in revenue to the District. The grants are applied after all discounts are processed.”

This means if a student were to receive a grant, the district would be paying for the final cost of their tuition after the discount has been applied; effectively reducing the financial burden for both the district and any individual student paying without aid.

According to the Enrollment Pipeline Survey, 15% of students who reported they would not return in the fall due to COVID-19 did so out of concern for paying for college amid the pandemic. Other student responses, such as confusion about how classes were being offered, classroom safety and the availability of disinfecting resources, ranked higher on the survey.

To address this, MCCCD published the video “Learn Safe in Fall 2020” on July 15 to ease concerns by explaining the technicalities of attending classes in person. The video, which has just over 2,500 views, is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baRszX3CZmU&feature=youtu.be.

“The current decline from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020 in student headcount as of Friday 8/21 is -14%,” wrote Hasson. “At -13 weeks prior to the beginning of the semester, our decline was -26%, so we closed the enrollment gap significantly.”

Nationwide trends indicate community college enrollment is lower across the board, and MCCCD is one of many institutions still highly engaged in finding ways to retain students.

Grant and discount funding pulled from the reserve are not expected to interfere or reduce future spending at MCCCD colleges. Other federal funding awarded earlier this year has been allocated to expand technical capacity and help prepare for the coming semesters. Officials urge students not to feel concerned about losing valued school programs.

The base tuition to attend MCC will not change despite these temporary price reductions and grants. MCCCD will be closely observing the impact of these decisions to determine if further financial stimulus will be required.

“We have had a positive response to the discounts and interest in opportunity grants. To date, the tuition discounts have been applied to 21,177 students for the Fall semester,” wrote Hasson. “We anticipate the opportunity grants to be distributed within the next two weeks to students as part of our Financial Aid awarding process.”

Updates to the Student Information System (SIS) and Financial Management System (FMS) went live for Maricopa Community College students Aug. 3, and existing fall 2020 enrollment bills have begun being recalculated as of July 30. All calculations, reductions, and opportunity grant allocations are reported to be automatically applied to student accounts.

For more information on the Maricopa Opportunity Grant, visit https://www.maricopa.edu/future-students/opportunity-grant.

About Author

Brock Blasdell is an American student journalist from Mesa, Arizona. He was hired onto the Mesa Legend in late 2018 as an Opinions Editor, and soon became the publication’s News Editor in 2019. His writings emphasize college history, civil involvement, and personal reflection on modern American issues, while also analyzing and critiquing the role of modern media in national politics.

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