‘There are millions of dollars left on the table’

By on March 6, 2023

COA President Jack Bagwell wants students to take advantage of financial aid

COA is holding events to teach parents how to fill out FAFSA forms. (Shutterstock)

If there’s one frustration that College of Albemarle (COA) President Jack Bagwell voices about the Dare Guarantee Scholarship Program, it’s that not enough potential students are utilizing it.

“We appreciate the partnership especially of the Board of Commissioners of Dare County for being forward thinking for helping us and funding a beautiful facility and for funding a scholarship,” he said. “We just want everybody to know about it—it is amazingly hard to get people to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity like the Dare Guarantee. We should be running out of money because we have people coming out of the woodwork to avail themselves of this opportunity. That’s what we want to do.”

The scholarship program, which is funded by Dare County to the tune of $250,000 a year, includes the cost of tuition, books and in most cases, a new computer for each student. To be eligible you must be a Dare County resident and, a high school graduate from public schools, private schools or home school located in Dare County, a U.S. citizen or documented lawful permanent resident and enrolled (and begin attendance) at COA within 24 months of graduation from high school, private school or home school.

According to Bagwell, this program, which is one of the first of its kind in North Carolina, was funded, in part, as an initiative to move students in Dare County into the local economy and to make sure that there are community members who are able to fill needed positions in the region.

COA’s welding program is a prime example of that. According to a Jeff Spear, Welding Technology instructor in the COA welding department, the school has received emails from the Tidewater area indicating that there are thousands of available job openings. COA students also have the option for a paid apprenticeship working as welders with the North Carolina Ferry Commission at their site in Manns Harbor while finishing the program.

“One of the worst things that we’ve done for education in the United States over the last forty years is convince everybody that they need a university degree to be successful. A university degree helps, but you don’t need it to make a good living,” said Bagwell, adding that Dare Guarantee students have also taken advantage of associate arts, information technology, criminal justice, surgical tech, pre-engineering, teacher prep, general business and nursing.

Some of those students, he added, go straight into the workforce and some use that education as a stepping-stone to a four-year university.

The COA president explains that the main goal for COA and Dare County is getting students into the higher education system and removing the barriers to that—whether they be financial or otherwise.

The first step for students and their families seeking financial help with higher education is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to see if they are eligible for federal grants and scholarships. If they aren’t eligible for federal funding, they can then apply for the Dare Guarantee scholarship. If they aren’t eligible for that, COA has an additional $300,000 in scholarships through their own foundation.

“So anybody who’s interested, we would ask that they reach out to us because if the Dare Guarantee is not is not an option, we have other scholarship options available based on availability and additional funds could be awarded for books and computer needs,” he added.

“There are millions, tens of millions probably, of dollars left on the table by North Carolina students every year because they do not fill out the FAFSA,” Bagwell asserted. “We just have people that will not fill out the FAFSA, and they’re leaving money on the table that could come to them to help fund their college or their kids’ college or whatever the case may be.”

In order to eliminate this obstacle for potential students and parents, COA is hosting a series of educational events to teach residents how to fill out the FAFSA and other financial aid forms. The next event, called College Application Days, will be held from 2-6 p.m. on April 18 for at the Dare County Campus in Manteo Dare County and there will be one the next day, April 19th, from 2-6 p.m. at the Elizabeth City campus. They will also have a number of events at Dare County high schools which will be announced in the future months.

There is no deadline to apply for the FAFSA, the Dare Guarantee, or the other available scholarships, but since funds are on a first come first serve basis, Bagwell advises that the earlier the better. He urges anyone who is confused or intimidated by the process to call the COA offices and they will walk them through the process.






  • Travis

    Remarkable program(s). Throws the doors of opportunity wide open. I had a chance to visit the new COA campus after it opened. It is modern, very attractive and is just begging to be used to its full potential.

    Monday, Mar 6 @ 3:49 pm
  • Just a mom

    The Dare Guarantee is a wonderful gift to young people!
    What I have been hoping to see for a very long time is at least a handful of bachelor degrees offered at COA… maybe a partnership with another NC school where they share the facility. I don’t know if it’s possible but it sure would be awesome for many folks here to improve their educational position and or open doors for different work opportunities.
    I hope someday there is that opportunity for higher learning here on the outer banks.
    Thank you for writing this piece. Glad the programs are being headlined 👍

    Tuesday, Mar 7 @ 3:38 pm