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
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
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
“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.
RELATED: Climbing from Life’s Bottom to the Top with a College Education
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.