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Is change needed for community and technical colleges?

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Following a Community and Technical College council Jan. 30, all ten institutional Boards of Governors voted and passed the tuition cap removal idea. However, since one of the institutions waited until mid-January to vote, the time deadline to request a resolution to be voted on by the council was not able to be met.

McConnell said that "since we could not have a resolution ready for their vote, that means we would be unable to present a resolution for a change in the state code during this legislative term. 

"And that, of course, means that this issue will likely lay dormant until next year's legislative session.  So again, we must place this on 'hold' for another year."


UPDATE

In addition to a potential 7.5 percent budget cut looming in the near future, community and technical college board presidents in the Mountain State will have another issue to bring to legislators during the 2014 regular session.

Throughout the Mountain State, community and technical colleges have a form of tuition cap, with students charged by the credit hour until they sign up for 12 hours. 

The cap was written into law by the Legislature and the Legislature would have to remove it.

CTC demographics

According to Jason Moses, Mountwest Community and Technical College Board chairman, about 50 percent of students attend part-time. 

Because anything beyond 12 credit hours is not chargeable, Moses said part-time students are left paying for full-time students. The state does not reimburse the colleges for the extra hours, nor are the colleges funded for the extra full-time enrollment generation, resulting in a large funding loss to the college for every student enrolled in more than 12 hours. 

At Pierpont Community and Technical College in 2012, 40 percent of students were enrolled for 12 or more credit hours, leaving the remaining 60 percent of students to carry the weight of college operations.

"Fewer than half in-state freshmen finish (college) in six years," said Earl McConnell, Pierpont Community and Technical College board chair.

Socioeconomics also affect community college demographics, McConnell said.

"Most of our community college students are working, have families and need extra time to study," he said. "They cannot avail themselves of this tuition cap ‘discount' and consequently pay ‘full freight' for their education. This type of student is the norm and not the exception in community colleges."

Doreen Larson, Pierpont president, said a lot of funding problems with the Community and Technical College system would be eliminated if the cap were removed. Larson states that "instead of another tuition increase, Pierpont could freeze tuition at current levels if the cap were removed and still balance our budget."

On Dec. 13, 2012, the Board of Governors Association convened to look at alternative practices that would better take advantage of federal higher education funding. 

To improve existing conditions and eliminate the cap rate, McConnell said one sentence needs to be added to community college legislation saying "Community college students taking more than 12 credit hours in a regular term may be assessed an additional fee for each additional credit hour based upon the one twelfth calculation set out in legislation." 

"All board of governors in eight of 10 (community colleges) think that's what needs to be done," McConnell said.

Current numbers

When it comes to students and financial aid, McConnell said a surprising number of students are covered by financial aid, particularly the Pell Grant, which is a federal grant usually awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's or a professional degree. The grant does not have to be repaid.

According to McConnell, 93 percent of students are fully funded by the Pell Grant, which accounts for a per-hour basis of $580,000 that Pierpont was unable to charge for.

On a statewide level in the fall of 2011, more than 8,000 students were enrolled in more than 12 credit hours in the West Virginia CTC system. 

McConnell said if "you conservatively estimate that those students took only one extra three-credit hour course at an average state tuition rate of $125 per hour, this policy enabled $3 million in ‘free' credit hours. For the full year, the amount would have easily been $5 million."

Pulling off the cap allows for the reduction of tuition fees, which will impact all students, he said.

"Why not embrace a win-win scenario, which is student-centered and has a positive impact in which, by removal of the tuition cap, not only do additional federal dollars flow toward the students who are financially strapped, but those that are not eligible for federal dollars enjoy a tuition reduction at the same time," McConnell said.

Effects of removing the cap?

According to Moses, removing the tuition cap would "take care of the fairness issue" and right the issue of "having classes not as full as they should be."

While the idea is to encourage students to earn their degrees faster, Moses said some students who originally sign up for more than 12 credit hours end up dropping down to fewer. Classrooms become smaller; having two teachers teach one class due to so many students taking one course is not needed anymore. Instructors often teach a class with only a handful of students, when one classroom and one instructor is all that is needed.

Not only would removing the tuition cap resolve those issues, but it would also help administration and allow for better class scheduling, Moses said.

Moses says removing the cap and not automatically applying it to all schools will allow the school the option to decide for itself whether the cap stays or goes, in addition to the school being more competitive, figuring out what works and allowing the school boards more flexibility.

"Some schools may decide not to remove the cap," he said. "Some might."

When it comes to the future financial situation of not only CTCs but also higher education institutions in general, Moses said  it "looks like funding at the state level will not get better soon," leaving higher education institutions with few choices.

Moving to a four-day week, downsizing staff, not hiring or replacing staff, possibly having to increase tuition and finding other ways to cut back on a tightened budget are some of the options Moses foresees.

A Look at Pierpont CTC's Tuition Funds:

In 2011, Pierpont students enrolled part-time, for six credit hours, paid the full rate of $161 per credit hour. 

Students enrolled in 13 credit hours paid $149 per hour, a 9 percent discount. 

Students enrolled in 15 credit hours paid a rate of $129 per hour, a 20 percent discount.

During the 2011 fall term, 1,200 Pierpont students were enrolled in 12-plus credit hours. Of those 1,200 students, 1,121 students, or 93.5 percent were fully covered by federal financial aid.

The remaining 79 students, or 6.5 percent, who were not eligible for the financial aid, however, would have seen a "drop" in their enrollment fees simply because with the removal of the tuition cap, this would have opened the door to tuition "reductions" even in the face of budget cuts.

At least 70 percent of students are fully covered by federal financial aid. Federal financial aid does recognize tuition and fee charges above 12 credit hours and provides funding accordingly.

Even if only 50 percent of those students were receiving federal aid, then the annual dollar amount the state is not receiving in federal funding approaches $3 million.