Lowering the Cost of Higher Education

Gov. Warner’s idea of cross-enrolling high school students, particularly those suffering “senioritis,” in community college courses is a great initiative. Students get challenged with a taste of the “next level” and earn college credits they can hopefully apply to their four year college.

Another idea using the community college system comes from Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College system. According to this Gary Robertson story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, DuBois hopes to counter rising demand on enrollment at Virginia’s public universities by incentivizing more students to start at community colleges and transfer:

Under the proposal, which he has circulated to legislators, community college graduates with a grade-point average of B or better would pay the community college tuition rate at the four-year public institutions to which they transfer.

In addition, the four-year institution would receive $1,000 per transfer student. DuBois has estimated that the program would cost the state about $4 million annually.

Savings to the state would come from the estimated $4,500 he says the state will save for every full-time Virginia student who begins his or her education at a community college.

“The lowest cost to a baccalaureate degree is the community college on-ramp,” DuBois said. “It’s the lowest cost for Virginia families. It’s the lowest cost for the state.”

I don’t know if DuBois’ payout numbers are accurate and defensible, but it’s the kind of thinking needed to confront expected shortfalls in capacity:

The increase of students trying to enter college is tied to record school-age enrollments. In the past five years alone, the state’s number of high school graduates has risen 11 percent.

In 1999-2000, there were 67,458 graduates statewide. By 2003-2004, the number had jumped to 75,101. Numbers for the most recent class of graduates are not yet available, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

There are several problems with DuBois’ idea, not the least of which is that he’s got a vested interest in enlarging his community college portfolio. That aside, there are already shortages of community college slots for certain curricula, such as nursing. Is the faculty infrastructure up to his plan? There’s a marketing issue. The State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) turned thumbs-down to a proposal to build a four year college in Southside because it didn’t believe students would matriculate there. Going to community college will not be nearly as glamorous as going away to school–is this financial carrot enough to overcome the intial disappointment of not being able to live in a dorm?

It’s certainly an idea worth pursuing. Maybe community colleges can do more to seem like a college community in Blacksburg, Fredericksburg, or Farmville. If just the type of students who drop out in their first two years of a four year college for maturity reasons took up the DuBois plan, it might be worth it.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    The per credit hour cost of my state university is 3 times the cost of the local community college. Why would a university clamor for a student who is paying 1/3 of the dollars of another student? $1000 doesn’t even begin to make up the difference in income to the university. (My university credit hour cost is “only” 3 times as high as the community college – the discrepancy at many in-state universities is even higher.)

    Personally, I believe the bar needs to be set higher than it is for most 4 year public universities. Even one year worth of classes at the community college will help teens rise to the real challenge of university work.

  2. I like the “Senior Year initiative” and I also like the idea of sending kids who aren’t going to college to trade schools or even apprentice type jobs part time.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    This looks like another plan with no funding. How can it possibly work?

    Living in a dorm is glamorous? I re-arranged my whole life so I could afford to live off-campus and not have to deal with drunken yahoos while I was trying to study.

    School ought to be expensive enough to discourage people who are not serious about it. At the same time, if someone is really serious, then some way to meet the costs should be found.

    For years we have been agonizing ovrt the costs for high schools for these kids, now it is college. Is anyone thinking about where these kids will live in this anti-growth climate?

  4. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    “Savings” to the state occurs, ultimately, when we encourage more enrollment. The kind of thinking we need in the face of capacity shortages is that which sees increased capacity as the answer. How much do we ‘save’ when we deny enrollment to a kid?

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Does anyone know the demographics of the college enrollment issue? We know that enrollments are rising right now, but why? One reason undoubtedly is the increasing population of Virginia. But the other may be an increase in the numbers of kids in the 18-22 age cohort. Will that cohort continue to growth indefinitely, or can we take a look at what’s happening to the K-12 population and see that it will level off, then drop in a few years?

    If we can project that enrollments are going to drop at some point, it doesn’t make sense to bulk up the capacity of the most expensive part of our Higher Ed system (four-year colleges) to meet a temporary enrollment surge. In that case, Dubois’ plan would seem to make a lot of sense. Increase the “surge” capacity at the community college level where the costs are significantly lower.

  6. Jim – SCHEV has done some reports on this, and I’ll look for them.

    My own feeling is that demand for college is increasing sharply because of WHERE the population growth occurred. It’s mostly in NOVA. And almost all of those kids go to some sort of institution of higher education.

    You also have a shifting economy in other parts of the state. When, in the past, kids would stay on the farm or stay in their rural community to work on the family business, now they can’t do that. The jobs aren’t there in Southside. So they’re setting their sights on school.

  7. TheModerate Avatar

    In regards to increasing enrollment, perhaps we should deny admission to more out-of-state students, or increase the cost of attending to the point where it is not such a “good deal” for them to come to school here. I know of many fellow high school classmates whose “spot” was taken by someone from out of state.

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    TheModerate offers an alltoo-tempting tempting solution to Virginia’s higher ed enrollment woes–increase the preferences for in-state students at the expense of out-of-staters. But there’s only one problem: Out-of-staters pay more than their fair share. Their tuitions are so high that they represent a net gain to Virginia taxpayers. In other words, we are making a profit on them.

    An alternative approach would be to increase the number of out-of-state students as a way to help pay for the cost of expanding higher ed facilities for in-state students.

  9. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    Unfortunately, the alternative we chosen, because of lack of adequate state support, is ‘charter’ status. Some may applaud this as a ‘market approach,’ but ‘market’ translates at places like UVA, W&M, etc. to tuitions that could triple in the face of existing demand. Who is priced out of that market? Not the rich snot-noses from New Jersey but the work-study kids from Lunenberg and Patrick and Southhampton.

  10. Scott Leake Avatar
    Scott Leake

    There is a legislative study committee on this very subject, the Joint Subcommittee Studying Public Funding of Higher Education in Virginia (SJR 74). By its title you might think that funding is the only issue. It’s not. A more accurate description would be a study of accessibility and affordability. Unfortunately, media coverage of substantive studies such as this is scant. This study is examining precisely the issues these posts address. FYI, the next meeting is July 25 at 2PM.

  11. Barnie:

    A common misperception is that charter schools are going to price out the poor. Not so. With every dollar in tuition increase, they’ll add aid for those who need it.

    The people who will be priced out are the middle class families who aren’t eligible for tuition assistance but can’t afford the higher prices.

  12. Terry M. Avatar
    Terry M.

    Paul, if I knew that to be true for sure, I’d sleep better at night. Unfortunately, until we see their six-year plans, we won’t know if that is fully their commitment or not.

    Jim, as to the demographics, high school graduates will peak about 2011 and begin to decline slowly. HOWEVER…that still will as many as 30,000/year that don’t go to college somewhere within the 12 months following graduation.

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