Jake Baker

COLLEGE STUDENT — Jake Baker, a 2020 graduate of Tuscola High School has high praise for the HCC program that is enabling him to wrap up his second semester.

Thanks to the Haywood Community College Foundation, the cost of a college education is no longer a barrier to getting needed training.

In the 2019-20 school year, the college’s foundation board approved a life-changing program for students who might have missed out because they couldn’t cover the costs.

Dubbed the Tuition Free Guarantee, the foundation offered to cover the tuition costs for those graduating from high school in Haywood County providing they first applied for available state and federal funding available to them.

Students had to meet minimum grade standards — 2.8 grade point average — and commit to taking at least 12 college credits per semester, where they maintained a GPA for continued funding.

The program, set up to cover costs for a two-year associate’s degree, was paired with efforts to help each student be successful.

All in the program are assigned a success coach, and college staff assist applicants in numerous ways during their education.

Jake Baker, a 2020 Tuscola High School graduate, is finishing up his second semester in the program for which he has high praise.

His original plan was to attend a four-year college where he could get a degree in a computer-related field — something he hoped would help him eventually land a job with Microsoft.

Once he started looking at the costs, however, he opted for the HCC free offer, which would get him through two years of schooling without debt as he continued to live at home with his grandmother who has raised him, Karen Hughes.

“Besides that, I saw the program would be a toe in the water to see whether the field I was going into would be right for me,” he said, noting he has also been able to take many of the general courses required at all colleges. Thanks to agreements HCC has with numerous four-year institutions in the region, all credits earned at HCC are transferrable.

While the coursework can be tough, Baker concluded his original career choice was solid, propelling him to register for the second year (also tuition free) so that he can obtain an associate’s degree.

“I admit when I was first thinking of college, it was stressful because I didn’t know how it would work,” Baker said. “But once I got into the thick of it, the coaches made it really simple.”

While there is no tuition to attend college under this special program for Haywood graduates, there still are expenses for books and online subscriptions or resources, costs Baker and his family can cover.

For those who qualify, HCC has other programs in place that can help students with an array of expenses for things that could interrupt their education otherwise.

“Really, having tuition covered was my biggest worry,” Baker said of the roughly $2,500 cost per year without the college foundation’s help. “HCC is really great. If you want to get a feel for college experience, definitely go to HCC. It’s not very intimidating, and while the courses take a lot of work, with personal determination you can get through. There’s a lot of help available.”

Foundation philosophyPam Hardin, director of Institutional Advancement for the Haywood Community College Foundation, said the tuition-free program has been approved for two more years.

“The HCC Foundation recognizes the many challenges and barriers our students face in pursuing their educational goals,” Hardin said. “We are dedicated to providing hope and opportunity through scholarships and supportive funding.”

Since the program’s inception, 31 students participated the first year, and 19 returned for the second year. During the 2020-21 academic year, 12 new students were enrolled.

This month, applications will be accepted for the 2021-22 academic year, and at that time Haywood high school graduates will be able to sign up.

Foundation board members see the tuition-free offer as a way to help meet the educational needs of the community, Hardin added.

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