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Setting a course for a stronger future

The Carolina Covenant has helped more than 10,000 Tar Heels graduate debt-free and ready to make an impact in their communities. Covenant director Candice Powell shares how the program is changing lives.

Candice Powell standing outside.
Candice Powell, the director of the Carolina Covenant.

Carolina is routinely ranked among the best values in education. As the nation’s first public university, providing access to an affordable education is in the DNA of our University.

There may be no better example of that mission in action than the Carolina Covenant, which helps Tar Heels graduate debt-free and make an impact in their communities.

Launched in 2004, the Carolina Covenant initiative provides students whose household income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level the opportunity to graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill without loans through a combination of grants, scholarships and a work-study job. The program has helped more than 10,000 students earn a college degree and set a course for a strong future.

“By combining significant financial aid and other resources with the power of community, the covenant creates a bridge across the barriers our low-income students face in higher education,” said Candice Powell ’06, ’21 (Ph.D.), who has served as the director of the program since 2019. “I am so proud to be part of an effort that has helped more than 10,000 students come to Carolina — a place that I love and that helped shape me, my sister, and my closest friends — to graduate without the kind of debt that may hinder their ability to apply the skills they gained in college to make our world a better place.”

Learn more about how the program is changing lives and Powell’s vision for the future

What impact has the Carolina Covenant made on its students and our University?

Across nearly two decades, the Carolina Covenant has been one of the most successful strategies in advancing the University’s equity goals. Through the covenant, thousands of talented students, who otherwise would not have been able to afford Carolina, have come to our university and made it better through their experiences and contributions. Covenant Scholars are deeply engaged in every aspect of the University. They are undergraduate researchers, student organization leaders, activists, artists, staff for many campus offices, and now are graduate students, faculty members, scientists, teachers, lawyers, doctors, community leaders and parents in our community paying it forward. They carry their Carolina education with them wherever they go, and many have shared with us the ways they have already used their education to make a difference in the lives of other low-income communities – particularly in the state of North Carolina. This circle of investment is as beautiful and inspiring as it is practical and strategic. It is a model of investment and impact that we are so proud of and hope to maximize for generations to come.

How has the Carolina Covenant changed and grown over the past 17 years?

Our program has grown from the first class of less than 300 students in 2004 to now more than 10% of all undergraduate students. As the scope of our commitment grew, the covenant also evolved alongside the expanding landscape of student success resources and strategies at the University to create more intentional networks of opportunity and support for our students. Many of these updates are reflected in our new university partnerships for academic and career development, alumni outreach and engagement efforts and community-building initiatives, as well as new strategies for educating and connecting with our students through the power of social media.

Outside of financial assistance, how does the Carolina Covenant support its scholars?

The Carolina Covenant is so much more than an exceptional financial aid package. Carolina Covenant Scholars are wrapped within a campus-wide commitment to their success, including a wide network of mentors, professional school liaisons, advisers and a host of other supports to ensure they have every opportunity to successfully complete their degree and thrive in college.

Our program offers well-being support, individualized mentoring, graduate school and career pathway discussions, guidance for high-impact engagement, financial aid education, as well as community events like trivia nights and social gatherings to cultivate opportunity and community for Covenant Scholars. We have a liaison to the covenant in every professional school that our students can connect with, along with pipeline partnerships at the School of Law, the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and the School of Medicine through the Rural Medicine Pathway Program. We are so grateful to our mentors, liaisons and many campus partners who help make these supports possible.

We also recently launched our alumni outreach and engagement efforts. We are so excited to start working with our newly established Alumni Advisory Board and a cohort of alumni advocates to support career development and networking for current undergraduate students and our community of more than 6,000 Carolina Covenant alumni. My team in the Carolina Covenant office has been amazing in lifting these partnerships up and making these supports possible for our students, in addition to their daily engagement with individual students answering their questions and directing them to resources and opportunities to meet their needs. They are amazing.

How does campus-wide support and collaboration strengthen the Carolina Covenant’s efforts?

The love that our Carolina staff, faculty, administration, alumni and partners have for our program and our students is truly wonderful. It is this investment and support – this “people power” – that makes the covenant possible and sustainable. It is this same people power that allows our team to engage in our work with the curiosity, compassion and creativity required to continuously improve our program for future generations of students.

Even during challenging times, the covenant shines as an example of our university’s expressed values in action. I feel the collective support for our program and our students across the University and from far beyond each day I come to work, and I am so grateful.

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