Class of 2021, you have undoubtedly been dealt an unfair senior year due to the pandemic. You have spent most of the year behind a screen and may not get a traditional prom or graduation ceremony. Some of you have had to deal with added stress at home because of financial struggles or the loss of a job. Schools have been forced to adapt to the pandemic and the students have suffered because of it.
Now, you may also be worried that you will continue to be short-changed if you start college in the fall.
But as leaders in this community and your biggest cheerleaders, we want you to know that we are here to support you and we hope you will keep your options open. The pandemic is trending in a positive direction and there is hope that it will be behind us soon. The vaccine rollout will be essential in things returning to normal. Regardless, we will not allow the pandemic to stop you from reaching your goals.
The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form could open doors for you that you did not even know existed.
We do not want you to realize too late that you could have attended college affordably, or even for free, if you had filled out your FAFSA. The financial status of your family could make you eligible for grants and scholarships that you would not have to pay back. To get a college degree does not mean you have to go into debt or take thousands of dollars in loans.
Last year, we watched the Class of 2020 leave nearly 110 million dollars in federal financial aid unused. We do not want to see you leave that kind of money on the table.
Our state needs you. We want to see you use your talents and realize your dreams. To do that, you will most likely need to get some training or education after high school. It is reported that 70 percent of jobs will require a college degree or certificate by 2030.
If the prospect of committing to a four-year degree is daunting to you, consider the other programs that are available. There are 2-year degrees, certificates, and other training programs that can massively improve your potential career earnings.
To give you an idea of how big of impact college can have on your life, look at the amount of money you can earn in your lifetime based on your level of education.
A high school graduate in North Carolina with no college degree can expect to earn only about $11,000 a year out of school. After 15 years of working, the average North Carolina high school graduate who skips college can expect to earn about $27,000 dollars each year. A high school graduate who has two years of college can expect to earn $56,000 after 15 years of working. Compare that to a high school graduate who gets a four-year degree, who can expect to earn $83,000 after 15 years of working.
You can potentially double the amount of money you earn in your lifetime if you go to college.
Now, some of you may be saying that you tried to fill out the FAFSA but found it to be too complicated and never finished it. We urge you not to give up and to seek help from the team of experts across the state ready to help you. Reach out to your high school counselor, any college financial aid office, or visit the College Foundation of North Carolina helpline for virtual and in-person help.
Additionally, if you are interested in training that can range from three months up to two years to complete, then the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I NextGen Youth Program may be an option based upon meeting certain eligibility requirements. WIOA brings together federal resources to invest into the development of local skills. Thousands of federal dollars go unspent due to lack of awareness for the NextGen youth program. Now is your chance to take advantage of the funding that WIOA provides for out-of-school youth in North Carolina. Contact your local community college or NCWorks Career Center to find out more about the NextGen youth program.
We are here to help you as you venture into the next phase of your life.
You can do this, Class of 2021!