Most community college students qualify for need-based aid, experts say. Many community colleges offer promise programs, which offer tuition-free awards to eligible students – mainly to students with Pell grant eligibility. For one Massachusetts teen choosing between a two-year or four-year college, cost was the deciding factor.
Estime had hoped to attend Smith College, but says the school costs too much, at more than $45,000 a year for tuition and fees. The liberal arts major enrolled in Holyoke Community College last fall and plans to transfer to nearby Smith or the University of Massachusetts–Amherst for her junior year, depending on the financial aid award. Estime, in the meantime, has managed to keep her debt under $2,000, paying for college with private scholarships, Pell grants and a small loan.
Pell grants: Pell grants function like vouchers for students to pay for higher education-related expenses, covering items such as books, transportation or tuition. Awards are based on financial need to students who have not earned a bachelor’s degree. More than two-thirds of Pell grants go to families making less than $50,000, according to Columbia University’s Community College Research Center at Teachers College. These awards are also contingent on the student’s household size.