WSCC officials lobby Gentile

The proposed state biennial budget could put Washington State Community College and other institutions between a rock and a hard place when it comes to funding.

A proposed 1.9 percent increase in the state share of instruction isn’t enough to support the student completion and success agenda Gov. John Kasich is emphasizing, while potential tuition hikes are also limited, according to a document Washington State Community College leaders gave to state Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville.

“We’re finding it challenging to keep our tuition where it should be to support the institution,” WSCC President Bradley Ebersole said.

Gentile visited the college Monday to tour the facilities and discuss budget issues with college officials. He also heard from Brenda Kornmiller, dean of business, engineering and industrial technologies, about how the college is working to meet the needs of the growing oil and natural gas industry.

The Ohio Association of Community Colleges is lobbying for an additional 5 percent increase on top of the 1.9 percent, Ebersole said. That would amount to about $20 million in fiscal year 2014 and $21 million in fiscal year 2015.

Over about the last six years, state money has dropped from 45 percent of Washington State’s budget to 34 percent, college Treasurer Jess Raines said.

Jeff Robinson, acting director of communications for the Ohio Board of Regents, said the current state funding formula for community colleges is based on 90 percent enrollment and 10 percent success points. The new formula, as recommended by the Higher Education Funding Commission and approved by community college presidents approved, will be 50 percent enrollment, 25 percent success points and 25 percent course completion.

The budget language would allow community colleges to identify success and completion measures and recommend allocation of funding based on them, Robinson said in an email Monday.

“Without identifying the completion or performance metrics, I am not sure how they’d determine how much funding they need,” he said.

Without more state funding, the natural alternative would be to seek more money from students.

“When you raise tuition, you start to limit access,” Ebersole said.

Tuition for a full year at Washington State is now $4,140 based on 30 credit hours. The new state budget proposal limits that increase to no more than $100 for instructional and general fees. That works out to about $3 a credit hour, Raines said.

The college is suggesting either a return to the $200 tuition cap in the current budget or a change in the way allowed increases are determined. Ebersole said he would prefer additional state support to increasing tuition.

Robinson said it is important to limit cost increases for students because community colleges are “the low-cost options for many Ohio college students.

“We must do all we can to contain costs; $100 per year is approximately a 2.3 percent increase above the rate of inflation,” he said.

Gentile said he understood the concern, especially since community colleges are being asked to play an important role in preparing Ohio residents to fill needed jobs.

“We’re calling upon you to take a leadership role in developing our workforce, and you have to be able to (offer) the latest technology,” he said.

Without more of an increase in state funding or tuition, the only other place to turn would be cuts in services or other areas. Ebersole emphasized it was premature to talk about that since the state budget process is only getting started and the final outcome still unknown.

Last fall, the college cut its budget by $1.5 million – including mandatory furloughs, a handful of job eliminations and money from the institution’s reserves – due to lower enrollment attributed to the transition from quarters to semesters and changes in federal financial aid rules among other factors. The actual loss does not appear to be quite that high.

Other issues Ebersole and company asked Gentile to consider were the proposed reduction in funding for Post-Secondary Enrollment Option students, which Raines said could shift the burden for books and other material to high school students taking classes at the college, and allowing community college students to once again be eligible for assistance through the Ohio College Opportunity Grant.

Kornmiller described for Gentile the programs the college is offering and considering to train people for jobs expected to become available as interest in accessing oil and natural gas in the deep-underground Utica and Marcellus shale formations continues to grow. Among them are the geosciences degree established in 2009, a certificate for abstractor or title research work now in place and a potential arrangement with a local company for on-site welder training.