Chatham Promise Offers Free Community College to County High School Graduates

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The Chatham County Commissioners voted to pass Chatham County Promise, an agreement with Central Carolina Community College to fund free tuition for residents graduating public high school.

Passed in mid-December, the agreement allows Chatham’s graduating public high school classes of 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 to receive two years of free tuition at Central Carolina, granted they meet some requirements.

Eligible students must have lived in Chatham County for 12 months prior to the fall semester and have graduated from a county public school with 12 dual-enrollment credits or four dual-enrollment courses, though that credit requirement is waived for class of 2019 graduates wondering if they are eligible.

Textbooks, supplies and supplemental materials are not covered by these funds.

Dr. T. Eston Marchant, president of Central Carolina, was at the December meeting to answer questions from the county commissioners about Chatham County Promise. Marchant, who is retiring in April, said he thinks the program will particularly benefit students interested in the kind of technical careers that are needed right now in Chatham.

“Those are the kinds of students that we hope take advantages of a program like this,” he said. “That will allow them to live in our community, to make a living in our community, to pay taxes in our community and to become a part of our community.”

The agreement with Chatham County draws heavily from similar agreements in neighboring Lee and Harnett counties. There, Marchant said, they have found that free community college tuition has benefited three types of students: two-year students interested in four-year degrees who transfer elsewhere, high school students who are motivated by the promised funding who then go on to graduate high school and then go to college, and students interested in technical careers.

The program was well-received by all members of the Chatham County Commissioners, who unanimously voted to pass the agreement. Commissioner James Crawford said he thinks the program shows promise for residents who might not have had access to a college degree otherwise.

“This opens the gate of opportunity for all our graduates. And there are those categories of folks, who I have referred to before, who may not even be thinking of college because of the money question,” he said. “This opens the door.”

Chatham Promise works as a reimbursement program, where Central Carolina will bill county government for tuition costs and fees. The program is slated to run for five years before being brought up again for renewal by the county.

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