North Arkansas College students — 1,041 of them — were notified by email last week they were eligible to receive emergency funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The College distributed $645,612 to students via check or direct deposit. This is the second round of relief grants that NAC has distributed, a press release said.
Tavonda Brown, dean of student services, explained how the most recent awards were allocated.
“CARES Act 2 provided a total of $2.8M with $722,402 again going to students as aid. The college gave highest priority to Pell Grant eligible students who received $66 per credit hour. Other eligible students received $33 per credit hour for pandemic expenses,” Brown said, adding that the remaining funds will be distributed in the summer before July 22.
“We want our students to know we’re here for them when money is tight.” College president Dr. Randy Esters said. “We hope this financial assistance helps students stay in school and secure a long-term solution. NAC will help them attain the education and training to land that stable job or transfer to the university of their choice. Now is the worst possible time for students to withdraw from NAC and stay in a rut, so we’re connecting them with this financial boost and other support such as technology, food, and online tutoring.”
For Bellanne Johnson, a sophomore from Branson, Missouri, receiving money from the CARES Act came as an out-of-the-blue surprise amid what felt to her like a Sci-Fi movie.
“I don’t think I would have believed it if somebody told me a few months earlier that the whole planet would be shutting down, everybody would be wearing masks, businesses, schools and sporting events would close, grocery shelves would be empty and you couldn’t go anywhere or do anything,” Johnson remembers. “By March 2020, my college campus essentially closed down, my classes were all moved online, and the NCAA & NJCAA had temporarily postponed all spring sports seasons just as my first college softball season was getting underway.”
Those temporary measures soon became permanent as classes remained online and her first college softball season was over before it barely got started. Then, her regular summer job announced it was not hiring due to the pandemic.
Johnson felt the pressure of worrying about how to pay for her education. “Initially, as a teenager it looked as though I wasn’t going to be eligible for normal unemployment benefits, plus I had summer college classes about to begin and I needed to work to help cover the costs of college and transportation,” she said. “Then my laptop computer crashed and burned right as summer school was starting. At the height of it all came an awesome surprise. NAC said I would receive money via the CARES Act. My computer problems were instantly solved. Shortly afterward my summer job called me to work on a limited basis.”
As a result of the CARES Act money and limited summer work Johnson survived the 2020 fall semester, paid for her books and tuition, the holidays, and her 2021 spring semester tuition then found her finances were running on fumes once again.
“It was a huge shock when, with no hint I received another CARES Act stipend in February,” she exclaimed. “There’s no question the money from the CARES Act allowed me to focus on my education and class work instead of being distracted by the financial burdens brought on by the pandemic. Rather than having to set aside my educational schedule and goals because of this terrible pandemic, I made the Dean's List the last three semesters with a 4.0 GPA. I truly have a lot to be thankful for.”
Johnson will finish two degrees in education and graduate from NAC in May. She will transfer to a university to pursue a teaching degree. Thanks to the CARES Act funds, she will begin her teaching career on schedule with the rest of her 2019 high school graduating class.
You can visit www.northark.edu/CARESAct for more information about the CARES Act.
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