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Scholarship program expecting 120,000 applications

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(The Center Square) – An estimated 120,000 North Carolina students are expected to apply for a state college scholarship program for students in families with incomes of $80,000 or less, state officials told members of the North Carolina State Lottery Commission on Tuesday.

Lottery proceeds fund 25% of the Next NC Scholarship program, with the remainder coming from state general funds, Andrea Poole, executive director of the state Education Assistance Authority told the lottery board.

Qualified students can receive at least $3,000 per year to attend a community college in North Carolina or $5,000 for one of the state universities, with higher amounts available based on need.

The state scholarships help supplement federal Pell grants, Poole explained. The students must also qualify under the federal Student Aid Index, she added.

“The only action that a student needs to take here to access this money is to file their Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” Poole said, referring to what is commonly known as FAFSA. “The state system doesn’t have an additional application of any of that stuff that a student needs to fill out to access this money. We are the agency that processes all the information that also goes to the colleges they put down. So we can automatically qualify students for these funds.”

Last school year, about 67,000 students received the scholarships but next year, the number is expected to reach 120,000, Poole said.

The federal government, however, launched a new FAFSA application last year which has caused some delays, Poole added.

The new application was delayed from an initial expected launch in January.

“We were not clear throughout the fall when the FAFSA was actually going to open,” Poole said. “It didn’t open until Dec. 31. Once it opened, it had technical issues that lasted for months. It was rough. Once all the bugs are worked out, for most families, it should be much simpler.”

The state is working to raise awareness in North Carolina about the scholarship program, including billboards.

Joshua Malcolm, a member of the Lottery Commission, praised the program, particularly for students who attend rural colleges in the state where Pell grants and the state scholarship can nearly cover the entire costs of tuition and fees.

“We’re making a tremendous impact,” he said.

The funding for the scholarship is about $180 million each year – a combination of lottery money and state general funds.

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