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The rising cost of community college

Posted on February 19, 2019

Louisiana has nearly 1.5 million working-age adults who have only a high school diploma or less. There is a significant need to get more people with a postsecondary degree or credential. Community colleges offer a cheaper, more flexible path to a degree, along with support and resources for students who are older, working full time and have family obligations. However, the drastic cuts in state support and rising tuition cost have made community college unaffordable for many in Louisiana. Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, the Commissioner of Higher Education, addressed the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday and The Advocate’s Will Sentell was there:

Community colleges are celebrating their 20th year, and have long been touted as an affordable way for students to earn post-secondary education even if they do not attend a four-year school. However, all colleges and universities have undergone a huge change in the past decade in terms of state support compared to what students pay in tuition and fees.Tuition accounted for 64 percent of revenue at two-year schools in 2015-16 — the latest available — compared to 37 percent a decade earlier. Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said the board that oversees the schools has gone four years without raising tuition and three years without a boost in fees. “We have been sensitive to this issue for some time,” Sullivan said.

One way to make community college more affordable is to invest more resources into the state’s need-based financial aid program, GO Grants.

The report also shows Louisiana spends less than average for need-based aid, which includes lots of community college students, compared to merit-based student assistance, which includes the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS. The state spends $161 on average for need-based aid compared to an average of $343 in the region and $376 nationally. It spends $1,601 for merit-based assistance compared to an average of $416 in the region and $168 in the U. S. Most TOPS dollars go to students attending four-year schools.

 

Affordable childcare is crippling workers
The lack of access to affordable childcare that many families face is starting to have major implications on the workforce. Many parents are having to choose between working and caring for their child. Not only does the economy suffer from this crisis, but a child’s educational outcomes are impacted by lack of early care. Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman has more on this growing problem:  

A 2016 report from the National Survey of Children’s Health revealed that 2 million working parents had to quit their jobs that year because of childcare issues. And 1 in 5 U.S. workers reports they are currently providing assistance for older relatives and friends, according to a report by the AARP Public Policy Institute. A majority (70%) of those took time off or had to make other work arrangements to handle care. “There’s a whole litany of things missing in our care infrastructure,” says Lirio Marcelo. But the bottom line is a codependency conundrum. “You need to work to pay for great care, and you need great care to work,” she explains, and this affects everyone, regardless of gender. From the start of life with brain development, to end-of-life care, she underscores, “Our care infrastructure drives our economy, and my job is to raise awareness of this ‘soft issue’ that’s not soft at all. It’s an economic imperative.”

 

Department of Education is not defending veterans
The post 9/11 G.I. Bill provided college funding to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To help veterans access available resources, Gov. John Bel Edwards recently announced a plan to add a veteran center on every state campus. As Louisiana takes steps to protect veterans, the federal government is allowing GI benefits to be abused by for-profit colleges. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is eliminating student protections and deregulating quality controls from for-profit colleges that are targeting veteran. Carrie Wofford and James Schmeling, explain the problem in an opinion column in the New York Times:

Why are veterans the targets? Because for-profit colleges milk a federal loophole that allows them to count G.I. Bill benefits as private funds, offsetting the 90 percent cap they otherwise face on their access to taxpayer-supported federal student aid. Nearly two dozen state attorneys general have said this accounting gimmick — known as the “90/10 loophole” — “violates the intent of the law.” Hundreds of for-profit schools are almost entirely dependent on federal revenue, and if the 90/10 loophole were closed, they would be in violation of this federal regulation. Taxpayers, in other words, are largely propping up otherwise failing schools. … Overall, by 2017, for-profit colleges had vacuumed up nearly 40 percent of all G.I. Bill tuition and fee payments since the post-9/11 G.I. Bill was introduced. Eight of the 10 schools receiving the most G.I. Bill subsidies since 2009 are for-profit colleges. Six of those 10 have faced government legal action for defrauding students.

 

Struggling towns face state takeover
Two more financially struggling Louisiana towns will now be run by a state administrator. The growing cost of retirement, public services and operations are leaving towns, with dwindling populations, with bills they can not afford. Many local governments are faced with reducing services and raising prices which can be politically hard to do. Mark Ballard of The Advocate reports:

Many Louisiana communities have been getting smaller as residents move to urban centers, like Baton Rouge and New Orleans, leaving the remaining residents with large bills and not enough revenues. That’s certainly the case for Bogalusa, which is near Slidell and whose population has dropped by half since 1970 to about 12,300 today. “Everybody says ‘Bogalusa used to’,” said Mayor Wendy Perrette in describing problems with “right-sizing” government. Bogalusa still has as many streets to maintain as Metairie, 29 police officers and 31 firefighters. She is laying off about a tenth of the workforce, not fully funding services and redirecting tax proceeds. But that’s not enough. The city has funded only 17 percent of its pension obligations. As point of comparison, LASERS, which handles retirements for state employees, is funded at about 70 percent, according Bradley Cryer, the assistant auditor in charge of overseeing the finances of local governments.

 

Number of the Day
21.1  – The percent of a Louisiana families income that will be spent on educational expenses at a public community college in 2015-2016. The national average was 18.2% and the Southern average was 17% the same year. (Source: Southern Regional Education Board)

 

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