Community College of Aurora covers tuition debt of more than 700 students with COVID relief funding


AURORA | The Community College of Aurora is using $1.1 million of pandemic relief funding it received from the federal government to pay off the tuition debt of its students.

The college has used CARES Act funding to pay off the balances for 378 students enrolled in fall 2020 classes at CCA, totaling $669,800, according to a news release. The college plans to pay off an additional $442,200 in debt for 374 students enrolled in spring and summer classes this year.

Of the students who had their fall tuition debt paid off, nearly half are enrolled at CCA this semester, the release said.

“The Community College of Aurora is committed to the empowerment and upward mobility of our students,” CCA President Mordecai Brownlee said in a statement. “By CCA clearing these student debts, we are effectively removing barriers to the academic and career pathways of our students. Such action is critical as our students continue to experience the impact of COVID-19.”

This is one of the college’s ongoing efforts to help remove barriers to students achieving a degree. CCA recently launched “Return to Earn,” a pilot program providing scholarships to students who had stopped taking classes several credits short of a credential or degree.

That’s part of a larger shift at CCA toward making sure that students leave with a degree that they can use to improve their lives. In an interview with the Sentinel over the summer, former president Betsy Oudenhoven said that initially, community colleges focused on getting students in the door but weren’t as diligent at tracking their progress once they arrived.

“In the early years a lot of community colleges were like ‘well, it’s not fair to scrutinize our outcomes because the students we serve are so high risk,’” Oudenhoven said. “There was kind of a philosophy that they have the right to fail…and the beauty here is that we reject that.”

Students who drop out of college before completing a degree are placed in a difficult position, as many are saddled with tuition debt without the diploma that could give them access to a higher-paying job. According to 2020 data from the Colorado Community College System, only 32.6% of students in the system graduated in three years, with students of color, first generation students and Pell-eligible students having worse graduation rates on average than their counterparts.

The pandemic has been particularly challenging for students in these demographics. Colleges throughout the Colorado Community College System saw enrollment declines during the pandemic, according to Chalkbeat Colorado, which reported that students with families and low-income students were particularly affected.

To date CCA has provided $4.53 million in tuition relief and emergency grants to 3,955 students with federal relief funding, the release said.

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1 month ago

I paid off my tuition debt myself!