Nevada lawmakers are considering launching a need-based grant for college students, hoping to support poor students who are unable to take a heavy course load and graduate on time because they have to hold down a job while attending school.
Members of the Senate Education Committee held a meeting Friday to review SB227, which would create the Silver State Opportunity Grant Program and provide it with $5 million in funding in each of the next two years. Proponents say it would help raise the college participation rate for Nevada’s poorest students, which is below the national average.
“These are not just numbers to me. They’re the people I see every day,” said Umram Osambela, a student at Nevada State College and representative with the Nevada Student Alliance. “Their chances of graduating are slim not because they don’t have the ability, desire and commitment. But the reality is they are struggling financially.”
Officials from the Nevada System of Higher Education said the state’s community colleges are among the least affordable in the country. College presidents pointed out that Nevada college registration, books and living expenses will take up 62 percent of the income of a family in the poorest 20 percent of households.
The national average is for those expenses to take up 50 percent of the poorest families’ annual income.
The grant would be separate from the Millennium Scholarship, which is based on academic achievement and is the only state-run scholarship in Nevada.
To receive the grant, students would need to attend a community college or Nevada State College and take at least 15 credits.
Applicants would fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the size of each grant would vary based on a family’s ability to pay and what other federal aid a student might receive.
For the lowest-income students paying the nearly $18,000 annual cost of attending college, for example, a student would be responsible for paying $8,000, the family would be expected to pay nothing, the federal government would pay nearly $6,000 and the Silver State Opportunity Grant would pay about $4,000.
For students whose families make a little more, relatives would be expected to pay $6,000 a year and the grant would pay less — about $3,700.
Lawmakers including Democratic Sen. Mo Denis raised concerns about the eligibility requirements.
saying that the 15-credit minimum might be too much for students who already have a tough time balancing family and work obligations.