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Bill would provide grants to low-income students

CARSON CITY — A bill introduced Monday by two state lawmakers seeks to make college more affordable for low-income students by creating the Silver State Opportunity Grant Program.

Senate Bill 227 would provide need-based financial aid to degree-seeking students enrolled full time in a community college or Nevada State College. Grants would be calculated based on each student’s financial need after considering the student’s resources, the family’s resources and any federal aid.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, and Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, would fund the program with $5 million a year. Finding the money will be a challenge. The program is not part of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s 2015-17 budget.

“Despite the incredible value Nevada’s colleges offer, they simply remain unaffordable to many Nevadans,” Kieckhefer said. “If we can’t offer a pathway to higher education and career training for our working class families, we may lock out an entire segment of our society from the American Dream. The state needs to make an investment in these students’ futures, and I’m confident it will pay off in spades.”

Kihuen said the bill is the product of bipartisan efforts over the past several years.

“By 2020, 58 percent of jobs in Nevada will require a career certificate or a college degree,” he said. “By allowing more students to afford and attend college, these grants will better prepare Nevada’s workforce to fill the jobs created by 21st century industries.”

Nevada ranks as one of the least affordable states in the nation for attending college when considering the total cost of attendance as a percentage of median family income. In 2012, full-time attendance at a 2-year institution consumed 18.9 percent of the state’s median family income after financial aid. That ranked Nevada as the least affordable state in the nation, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

Those statistics become even more stark for Nevada’s lowest-income families. For the poorest fifth of Nevada families, it takes more than 62 percent of family income to pay the full cost of attending a 2-year college.

The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee for a hearing.

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