Daily Press (Sunday)

Free tuition? In Dare County, it’s possible.

Scholarshi­p offers residents no-cost courses at College of The Albemarle

- By Corinne Saunders Staff writer

MANTEO — It sounds too good to be true. But it’s not.

Many Dare County residents are eligible to continue their education for free, whether they seek an associate degree or a workforce credential.

“Thanks to the Dare County Guarantee Scholarshi­p Program, funded by Dare County, students can attend College of The Albemarle with no out-of-pocket expenses for tuition and fees,” Tammy Sawyer, COA director of communicat­ions and marketing, said in an email.

Since 2019, Dare County has dedicated $250,000 annually for the program.

Often called the “Dare Guarantee,” the program covers tuition and fees — and sometimes also books and computers — that are not already covered by other available financial aid and scholarshi­ps.

The Dare County Board of Commission­ers establishe­d the scholarshi­p “to meet a board priority,” with the goal of “providing as many scholarshi­ps as possible for Dare County graduating seniors who wish to attend” COA, according to the 2019-20 county budget.

To be considered for the scholarshi­p, students must be Dare County residents,

U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents and begin attending the college within 24 months of graduation from a public school, private school or homeschool in the county, according to the COA website.

Commission­ers voted in July 2021 to expand the scholarshi­p offer to include adults who were not recent high school graduates, according to the Dare County website.

COA enrollment among recent Dare County high school graduates was not as high as the commission­ers had hoped, Bob Woodard, board chair, explained of the scholarshi­p expansion vote.

“We wanted to help as many folks as we could,” he said. “Education is important to our board.”

The feedback from those who have enrolled has been

positive, Woodard noted.

One young woman spoke at the State of the County event last January and called the program a game changer for her family, Woodard said.

Since her family could not afford college tuition, it saved $85,000 in student loans as she earned a two-year degree at home before enrolling in a four-year university to complete a bachelor’s degree, he said.

“We’ve had numerous success stories like that,” Woodard said.

Alice Turney, a 72-year-old, Manteo resident, enrolled in COA during the spring 2022 semester. She said receiving the scholarshi­p “took away any worry about how I was going to pay for classes.”

Bored during the pandemic, Turney said, “I got to thinking about what I could do that would be different,

that I’d always wanted to do but never had the opportunit­y — so I decided to go for a degree in college.”

She’d married young, raised children and at 47, decided to become a licensed practical nurse.

“I’m not afraid to do something at an older age,” Turney, who has been retired for about a decade, said with a laugh.

She’s always loved learning, but prior to COA, the year of nursing school had been her only education since graduating from high school in Newport News.

“Boy, it was rough the first three semesters,” she said, explaining that she was simultaneo­usly learning course material and how to use computers and complete work online.

She’s been selected as a COA student ambassador and talks with prospectiv­e older adult students about how they, too, can continue their educations.

“I think it’s a really good way to stretch yourself to go a little bit further than what you think you can do, especially if you like academics or like learning,” Turney said.

Since the program began, 1,222 students have been awarded the Dare County Guarantee Scholarshi­p, and 717 students have accepted, according to Sawyer.

Some students who were awarded the scholarshi­p didn’t accept it or need it because of other opportunit­ies, she noted.

For the fall 2023 semester, 244 students were awarded the scholarshi­p, and 152 accepted, according to Sawyer. Of those who accepted the scholarshi­p, 125 students were enrolled in curriculum courses, which ultimately lead to a two-year degree, and 27 were enrolled in continuing education courses.

The continuing education courses, formally called Workforce Developmen­t and Career Readiness, are “high-demand workforce training programs that lead to a state or industry-recognized credential,” Sawyer said.

Classes considered “lifelong learning and enrichment”— such as jewelry, painting or pottery — are not included under the Dare Guarantee Scholarshi­p.

Students taking workforce classes do not have to apply to the college with the formal applicatio­n process required for curriculum students, according to Fay Davis Edwards, coordinato­r for workforce developmen­t and career readiness for COA’s Dare campus.

“At least half the students in our workforce program have been covered in some form and fashion by the scholarshi­p,” Davis Edwards said. “It’s an easy process, and it can get you positioned for a more lucrative career,” or provide credential­s leading to higher pay.

In one summer session, a granddaugh­ter and grandfathe­r took a basic welding course together. They plan to use what they learned in fields that “are vastly different,” she said.

“There are people that wouldn’t be able to get these certificat­ions otherwise,” Davis Edwards said.

“Pool and Spa (certificat­ion) just jumped up to $299,” she said, but the scholarshi­p would include the one-day course cost, the book and the testing.

Many heating, ventilatio­n and air conditioni­ng companies provide on-the-job training, but she said earning a certificat­ion in COA’s HVAC lab could lead to a higher pay rate.

COA staff welcome questions and provide detailed informatio­n about the scholarshi­p when people call to register, she said. For workforce classes, registrati­on occurs on a rolling basis until each class is full.

“Let’s get our workforce trained,” Davis Edwards said. “It’s such an asset for our county.”

 ?? CORINNE SAUNDERS/STAFF ?? Students from Dare County who qualify can earn free tuition at the College of The Abemarle.
CORINNE SAUNDERS/STAFF Students from Dare County who qualify can earn free tuition at the College of The Abemarle.

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