It’s been a rough year for Cleveland’s community college system, which has been hit by a $1.6 billion debt crisis and cut its budget by nearly 30 percent.
But with enrollment down 40 percent over the past year and the cost of higher education skyrocketing, the Cleveland community is on the brink of a new wave of enrollment, thanks to a $10 million grant to help students pay for college and to help the school get a new building.
“It’s a great thing to be able to support the school, but it also makes sense financially,” said Michael Hester, president of the Cleveland Federation of Teachers.
“So it’s really nice that we’re able to help them with that.”
The grant, announced Tuesday, was awarded by the Cleveland Community Foundation, a group of philanthropists, universities and other institutions that are working together to provide grants for college costs.
The Cleveland Federation, which was formed in 2015 to fight for a better education for low-income students, is currently funding grants to help cover about 80 percent of costs.
So far, the program has funded $1,715,000 for about 2,000 students.
“We have about 1,000 families and we have about 50 families that are on that grant,” said Hester.
The grants are aimed at helping Cleveland Community College meet its obligations to make the school financially solvent, as well as to help with student and staff recruitment and retention.
The grant will allow the Cleveland State University-Harmon Campus to build a new student union building that will open next spring, and also allow the school to continue expanding its library and to expand its dining and recreation offerings.
The funding will cover construction of a four-story student union and renovations to the school’s cafeteria and gymnasium.
For those students, the grant is also intended to help fund the construction of more student apartments.
“I think this grant is really good news for our students and our staff,” said Elizabeth Wozniak, president and CEO of the Community Foundation.
“This is a tremendous thing to get a little more financial stability for our community college students.”
The program will also allow Cleveland Community Community College to begin building new dining facilities, such as the newly renovated dining hall, which is set to open this fall.
“What this means for students is that the new dining hall is going to be more affordable, more accessible to students, and better connected to the community,” said Woz.
The college also plans to add a full-service library to the new building, and to begin recruiting more students.
Hester said the grant will be a major boon to the college, which he said is struggling to maintain its financial viability.
The district’s current loan repayment rate is 30 percent, which the grant gives the school an additional 10 percent that it can borrow from banks.
“If the bank is able to come in and take advantage of that and borrow from us, then that’s good,” said Tanya McManus, a senior associate director at the Cleveland Department of Education.
“But it’s just one more loan that’s been made, so that’s not going to help our students.”
However, the community college’s financial situation has also been impacted by the state’s recent decision to eliminate its student aid, which left many students and families scrambling to pay back their loans, and the school has had to shut down its library in recent months.
“They’ve had to close down the library, they’ve had a few staff layoffs, they’re in a difficult financial situation,” said McManes.
The community college also received another $500,000 grant from the Cleveland Alliance for Educational Equity to help it get more students into the program.
“The grant gives us a little extra money to help us get more of our students in the program, and then we can get them into our library,” said Chris Wigdor, the school district’s executive director.
The school also has a $200,000 scholarship fund that was established to help low- to moderate-income families get into the community colleges program.
The fund will cover about 40 students, who are currently enrolled at the school and can apply for financial aid to help pay for tuition.
Wigdal said the fund is intended to provide the students with financial assistance to pay for school expenses.
“That’s one of the things that the grant was really intended to do,” he said.
For the students that are in this program, that’s really what we’re all about.”