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Claudia Hernandez standing inside Kepner Hall smiling

Aims2UNC Programs Helps Community College Students Earn Bachelor’s Degrees 

For Claudia Hernandez, UNC was a dream she had been telling her children about for more than a decade before it became a reality.

For Claudia Hernandez, UNC was a dream she had been telling her children about for more than a decade before it became a reality. As a first-generation student, the daughter of immigrants, as well as a wife, mother and even a chef, she wanted to add college-graduate to that list.  

“I told my kids, that's my school,” she said when they made their daily drive past the campus.  

In the 20-plus years since her high school graduation, she has had an uphill journey to get to “her school.” But now that she’s here, earning a double major in Accounting and Finance, with a certificate in entrepreneurship, while working full-time for Banner Health, she’s not stopping until she succeeds.  

"What has not faltered is my determination to see my educational dreams come true."

— Claudia Hernandez

A scholarship from the Francis Family Foundation paved the way for Hernadez to get from Aims Community College, where she earned an associate degree in 2022, to UNC for her bachelor's degree. 

Since 2019, the Aims2UNC program has served as a partnership between Aims Community College and UNC to combine efforts and innovate postsecondary education in the community by creating a more holistic approach and establishing a streamlined route to earning a 4-year degree. The alliance was created by Aims President and CEO, Leah L. Bornstein, Ph.D., and UNC President, Andy Feinstein, Ph.D. The program ensures the student’s admission to UNC and puts them on the path to complete a four-year degree following successful completion of an associate degree at Aims. This also allows students to enjoy many benefits of being part of UNC’s vibrant and supportive campus community. 

That means a student who arrives at Aims and begins taking classes there as part of the program will be treated much like a UNC student at the same time. 

“They’ll have an Aims and a UNC ID card,” Feinstein said. “They can access our sporting events, use our library, and more.” 

This program is part of a larger recent trend in Colorado to make it easier for community college students to transition to 4-year colleges. 

For Nick and Jan Francis, Hernandez is exactly the type of student they were thinking about when they established the Francis Family Scholarship in 2019 specifically for students transitioning from Aims to UNC.  

The Francis’s wanted to help students seeking to better themselves through education but who lacked the financial means to do so, so they created the Francis Family Scholarship. 

Greeley, where the Francis’s have made their home for the past 50 years, has been good to them. They have been able to make a successful living in real estate and in the oil industry and raise their family. So, they were eager to find a way to give back to the community in a meaningful way. In 2019, they found that opportunity with students transitioning from Aims to UNC, including those in the official AIMS2UNC program.  

“When we get letters from the students saying they are the first in their family to go to college, that makes us the happiest,” Nick Francis said. 

Growing up in a middle-class household in St. Louis, Nick’s parents struggled to afford to send him to college at Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University). His father worked at the post office until his retirement at age 55, where he made $28,000 a year. Nick knew he wanted to create better opportunities for his life and family, so he decided to pursue his college education and eventually moved to Colorado.  

“Everybody needs help,” Nick said, including non-traditional students who may be returning to school, or starting for the first time later in life. 

This was true for non-traditional student Hernandez. 

She knew she needed extra support to get to UNC. Throughout her career she faced several setbacks, including her company sending her work overseas, being laid off, having to declare bankruptcy, losing her home and making a career change into finance.  

“My husband lost his job and I had to move out of my beloved home in order to lower my cost of living. What has not faltered is my determination to see my educational dreams come true,” she said. 

Hernandez has taken full advantage of being on UNC’s campus. She has joined the Center for Human Enrichment,  the Financial Management Association, the Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity and the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization. With the latter organization, she and other student members recently launched a care package business on campus, Bear Box. The company, which is for UNC students and their families, is just one way she wants to help the community. Upon completion of her degree, she wants to help residents with their finances, such as getting loans to make home improvements.  

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In the Fall of 2023, the Aims2UNC program welcomed its largest class of applicants with 65 students. Over the course of the five-year partnership, there have been nearly 600 applicants of whom 118 have transitioned to UNC and 22 have graduated. Many recipients, Nick Francis said, have financial needs that qualify for federal funding, such as the Pell Grant for lower-income students, but need the Francis Family Scholarship to supplement and provide more financial support to the student.  

Nearly 40% percent of students who transition to UNC through the AIMS2UNC program are first generation, 58% are Pell-Eligible and 75% are in-district Weld County students.  

According to Investopedia, community college students can face unique challenges when it comes to transitioning to a 4-year college, including a lack of information and guidance. “A July 2021 report from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) found that about 86% of students in community college do not go on to earn a bachelor’s degree,” the report said. 

But the Aims2UNC program tackles those challenges head on for the students.  

Steve Mitchell, an Aims2UNC coordinator for Aims, said the students thrive under the program because they get individualized attention and advising, and receive a “warm hand off” from Aims to UNC. Aims advisors help with everything from sticking to deadlines and planning and coordinating to ensure a smooth transition which includes transferring students’ records and transcripts, ensuring course credits transfer successfully, among other items. Aims2UNC students are also considered UNC students from the time they apply, so they are welcomed into the UNC community and can attend events, utilize resources and more before they start taking classes at UNC. Students also benefit from the cost savings component since tuition at Aims is lower than at UNC. And, perks aside, the direction the program provides is its top benefit. 

Pete Lien, assistant vice president of Enrollment Management at UNC, said the generous support of the Francis Family Scholarship has greatly aided the AIMS2UNC program’s success in addition to the close collaboration between UNC and AIMS staff.  

“Students who are income limited and/or are first generation face various challenges in completing their 4-year degree. However, the AIMS2UNC program with the support of the Francis Family Scholarship help to alleviate those barriers and allow students to find success and achieve their bachelor's degree,” Lien said. 

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