Many low-income students at Western Nevada College are learning firsthand that the state has their educational goals in mind.
The 2015 Nevada Legislature allocated $2.5 million for financial assistance to students for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. Through the Silver State Opportunity Grant program, 63 WNC students are receiving the maximum financial aid award of $5,500 for this school year.
â€œIâ€™m excited about it. I just heard about it,â€ said recipient Ellie Dutton. â€œIâ€™ve been literally working three jobs just to get through, so this helps out immensely, and now I can focus on my 15 credits and cut back to one job.â€
According to statistical information for the state, more than $434 million in financial aid requests for Nevada System of Higher Education students were unmet during the 2012-13 academic year.
NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich called the program a historic moment for low-income students, and a significant first step in ensuring that college is affordable to all Nevadans.
The state awarded financial aid to students at five Nevada colleges, including WNC, Truckee Meadows Community College, Great Basin College, College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College.
Besides lifting some financial barriers for students to continue their education, the grant will provide students more time to focus on their studies.
â€œIt can make a difference because it is going to help Nevada residents who might be receiving federal aid; this will help put it over the top so they can focus on school,â€ said J.W. Lazzari, WNCâ€™s director of Financial Assistance. â€œThe goal is to reduce the number of hours worked so they can take 15 credits. Students can work less, borrow less, focus on school and complete their education faster.â€
WNC students are receiving awards ranging from $813 for to $5,500 for the school year, according to Lazzari.
â€œThe award varies per student based on a number of factors that the system office and the Legislature put into place to determine eligibility,â€ Lazzari said.
Dutton worked for the state before deciding to go back to school. She said her commitment to studying was inconsistent and required taking time off from work for important tests.
â€œItâ€™s really hard to take four or five classes and work two or three jobs,â€ she said. â€œNot only does working cut out a lot of study time, but when you are inundated with work, you tend to take time off of work just to get through midterms and finals. You also tend to let things fall behind, then play catch-up.â€
Nevada ranks last in the nation in college affordability with respect to median family income for students attending two-year institutions. SSOG funding should also help raise the state rate of 28.6 percent of students from low-income families going on to college. For 2012, Nevada rated 44th; the average national rate is 39.4 percent.
Students who have yet to complete a FAFSA application likely wonâ€™t be eligible for SSOG money for the 2015-16 academic year because funds are limited, but they are advised to fill out the forms anyway.
â€œWe continue to encourage students to complete their FAFSA as there are other potential funding options,â€ Lazzari said.
To qualify for the state grant, students must meet a number of guidelines, including enrollment in a program of study leading to a degree or certificate; a 15-credit-hour course load that applies to the studentâ€™s chosen program of study; college readiness in placement or completion of entry-level, college-level mathematics and English courses; classification as a Nevada resident; fulfillment of Title IV financial aid satisfactory academic progress requirements; completion of a FAFSA application; and a family contribution amount not exceeding $8,500.
For more information on the SSOG program, go to www.nevada.edu/ir/Page.php?p=ssog