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Driving Down the Cost of an Education With Scholarships and Partnerships President Obama recently proclaimed that community college enrollment should be free to students, but that conversation among legislators will continue for a long time. Meanwhile good people are slipping through the cracks. Even if the day should arrive that tuition is free, students will have fees, childcare, books, supplies, and transportation expenses that can be costly. In Cascade County, 26.4 percent of the residents age 25 and older have a high school diploma but no college education.* The statistics are no different in surrounding counties, and, in most cases, there’s a larger number of individuals without a post-secondary education. Of Cascade County residents who are age 25 and older, an additional 29 percent have some college but no degree. A May 2015 Atlantic Monthly article points out that the principal reason for the widening gap in income inequality throughout the country is the unequal distribution of college degrees and certificates. Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education said, ”70 percent of that inequality is derived from differences in access to higher education. The problem [started in 1983 and] has gotten worse and worse, and worse.” Let’s bring circumstances home to the individual in North Central Montana. In reality most adults who have a driving desire to get a college degree leading to a career with more pay, have a low-paying job and children who are supported by that job. With that responsibility, the college dream is often put aside. *Statistics from Montana Department of Labor and Industry. Potential Students Often Find College Enrollment Beyond Their Financial Reach Seventy percent of GFC MSU students who are presently pushing to earn a degree or certificate qualify for some sort of financial aid. That indicates that they come from families in the 40 percent or lower income brackets. Over the years that percentage has remained consistent, and likely it will remain true in the ensuing years. Governmental financial aid is awarded to college students on a sliding scale and ranged in 2014-2015 from $450 to $5730. The total for books, tuition and fees averages around $4500. Most often there is a negative disparity between financial aid and the cost of college. Another group of students — both present and potential — are those who do not qualify for financial aid but still do not have the extra income for a college education. Daycare and living expense eat up their take-home pay. Last year 36 percent of students had children who depended on their care, 15 percent were single mothers, and 65 percent worked part time while 20 percent worked 30 or more hours a week while attending college. When students — both with and without financial aid — continue to work, it creates an additional strain on family life not for just a few days but for as much as two years. There’s no doubt about it, many present Great Falls College MSU students are financially needy and live with time constraints, and so are those who have the potential to attend. Great Falls College MSU Strives to Drive Down Financial Barriers for Students Great Falls College MSU wants to assist students who are excited about continuing their education. The goal is to drive down the financial barriers. A step in helping with students’ expenses is collaboration with businesses, individuals, and university partners, such as the Great Falls Public Schools and the units of the University System with ways to offer courses that ease the financial burden of college. The Great Falls Public Schools and the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation have become active in assisting Great Falls high school students who want to enroll in college courses at GFC MSU. Last year $13,235 helped 11 high school students take individual college courses. Additionally, fourteen students received $500 each toward their tuition to enter the welding and carpentry programs. The emphasis has been to increase access by offering a 1+3 engineering program giving area students the opportunity to enroll at the college for the first 32 credits of engineering study. The College of Engineering at Montana State University Bozeman accepts those credits, and students go on to complete a bachelor’s degree on the Bozeman campus. The opportunity to remain in Great Falls one of the four years is a reduction of $3600 in tuition costs plus a savings in living expenses. Four individuals, studying to become engineers, will receive scholarships given by community businesses and foundations to help with their college expenses at GFC MSU this next year. The engineering firms that provide these scholarships are optimistic that these individuals will return to Great Falls to raise their families and to work in their firms. For the 2014-2015 academic year, 26 scholarships were given to GFC MSU students. The average age of a scholarship recipient was 29. The oldest was 62, and the youngest, 18. The total amount was $93,000. These scholarships have been given by single donors, families, businesses, and non-profits. Over the course of this last year, Great Falls College MSU has grown its endowed funds by an additional $750,000. The Cameron endowments brought 18 new scholarships alone. These scholarships will continue to provide for students in perpetuity. This is a start, but it isn’t nearly enough to award to energetic,