State program makes tuition-free degrees possible

Deciding how to pay for a college education can be a struggle for students and their families. Now, the financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have only amplified the stress that comes from making those tough decisions. A state-funded program, however, has helped create 29 tuition-free degrees at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids and is effectively erasing student debt concerns for a number of Iowans.

Last-Dollar Scholarship makes community college even more affordable

Kirkwood already has one of the lowest tuition rates in Iowa and a scholarship fund that awards $3 million to students every year, but aside from the college’s personal efforts to cut costs, a statewide initiative known as the Last-Dollar Scholarship program is helping Kirkwood turn an affordable college degree into a completely free one.

Part of the state’s Future Ready Iowa program, the Last-Dollar Scholarship covers any tuition that a student owes after federal and state grants, as long as the student pursues one of Kirkwood’s qualifying 29 high-demand programs.

Students of nearly all ages, backgrounds can qualify

Last year alone, Kirkwood helped 821 students pursue a tuition-free degree via the Last-Dollar Scholarship. Now that the college has had more time to get the word out, they hope to serve many more students with a free education in the coming academic year.

Anybody who graduated from high school this year and plans to enroll full time is eligible to have their tuition covered through the program.

Additionally, anybody 20 years of age or older is eligible. This group of eligible adult learners is only required to be enrolled part time, which allows them to maintain family, workplace, and other responsibilities while going to school.

Reason for optimism among future job seekers

Despite high levels of unemployment across the state, Kirkwood Director of Financial Aid Matt Falduto thinks the very existence of programs like the LastDollar Scholarship should provide encouragement to Iowans looking to enter the workforce.

“It’s a stressful time and there’s a lot of people out of work, but for these in-demand career fields, there are lots of jobs out there ready to be filled,” said Falduto. “People just need the right education and training. These 29 programs are on the list because Iowa really needs people to fill these kinds of jobs. We need nurses, we need computer software designers, welders, dental assistants, and more.”

Many of Kirkwood’s 29 free-to-enter programs give students tremendous earning potential as well. Graduates can turn many 2-year management, business, technology, and healthcare degrees into entry-level jobs with salaries between $50,000 and $80,000 per year.

New-age, flexible learning environment

Aside from the obvious financial benefits of earning a college degree at no cost, the pandemic has also ushered in a new era of flexible learning, making this a great time for many students to take the next step in their education.

“Kirkwood has always adjusted to the needs of students, but the virus forced us to look at new ways to help students reach their goals on their terms,” said Kirkwood Vice President of Academic Affairs Bill Lamb. “This fall, we’re going to find safe ways to get students back to learning on campus as possible, but I also think students are going to be very pleased by the flexible, hybrid class options available to them.”

Lamb says that uncertainty surrounding fall semester plans at many colleges just makes Kirkwood that much more of an obvious choice for students.

“There’s a lot of unknowns as everybody moves forward,” Lamb added. “If there’s a chance you’ll be learning largely from an online format regardless of where you are enrolled, why spend thousands of additional dollars to do so?”

Kirkwood now accepting applications

Any student wishing to take advantage of the LastDollar Scholarship at Kirkwood first needs to apply and enroll in a qualified program. Applications can be completed free of charge at www.kirkwood.edu/apply, and more information on the qualifying 29 tuitionfree programs can be found at www.kirkwood.edu/ lastdollarscholarship. Students also need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by July 1, 2020.

That’s basically it.

“It’s a simple program to take advantage of because there’s no additional need requirement,” Falduto said. “Students just have to be eligible for financial aid so the state can look at what other grants they’ve received and pay the difference on their tuition. That’s why it’s called the Last-Dollar Scholarship – after everything else is figured in, it pays the very last dollar you owe.”

Cedar Rapids • Iowa City • Online 319-398-5517 www.kirkwood.edu

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