WSCC can offer tuition guarantee

With the recent signing of Ohio House Bill 484 by Gov. John Kasich, funding for technical and community colleges across Ohio will now be more heavily based on student success and retention rates. In addition, community and technical colleges can now offer tuition guarantee programs to help combat the rising cost of a college degree.

Higher education officials hailed the bill as a step toward making college both more affordable and strengthening the quality of community institutions, and officials at Washington State Community College in Marietta shared the excitement about what this bill means for its institution.

More state funding

“The higher education community is very pleased with this bill, and it has treated us so well so far,” said Bradley Ebersole, president of WSCC. “There’s a number of pieces in it that will work to our advantage that will now be available to us.”

The bill increased state funding for community colleges from about $411 million to $419 million for the next fiscal year, and creates a plan to increase graduation and retention rates while making college more affordable.

“In a time when many states are decreasing funding, we’re pleased to see Ohio going in the other direction and increasing it,” Ebersole said.

One of the main components of the bill is to make a large portion of state-subsidized funding for technical and community college based on education milestones, which include student retention, course completion and graduation and certification rates.

“This bill encourages schools to strive for student success by rewarding student achievement,” said the bill’s sponsor Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, in a statement. “It also provides a framework to use innovative strategies to allow families to better prepare for the cost of higher education.”

The bill makes that component worth 25 percent of the overall state share of funding and takes the large emphasis off enrollment, an issue plaguing both private and public institutions as college-age populations began declining since 2009.

“We’re feeling good about that because we began focusing on the student success effort two years ago, and we’ve implemented good strategies already,” Ebersole said. “It’s paid off, because our state share of instruction has increased.”

About a year ago, Washington State, predicting a future change in state funding formulas, implemented an action team to create a Strategic Campus Completion Plan and a Commitment to Student Success statement. The goal is to strengthen college readiness and adult literacy programs to increase graduation rates, along with boosting efforts in teacher evaluations and advisor training, among other measures.

State funding for WSCC came in at $5,117,912 during 2013-2014, but next year, Chief Fiscal Officer Jess Raines projected an increase to $5,651,365, with a potential for more.

“This formula coming out was very generous,” Raines said. “Our funding is up 11 percent over the current year already, and that’s due to a lot of hard work and attention.”

Guaranteed tuition

Schools like Ohio University were trailblazers starting discussion about a tuition guarantee model years ago, which allows a full-time student to lock in the same tuition rate for four years, despite any increases over time.

House Bill 484 now sets into law the ability for technical and community colleges to do the same, a plan that Ebersole said should be proposed in spring 2015.

“We went to look for ways to keep tuition low and affordable, so now we are watching other schools to see how it works for them,” he said. “But we will probably make a recommendation next spring one way or another to do for that next year.”

The concept allows institutions to raise tuition rates as needed while providing a way to ease the impact for full-time students.

“It allows students to keep college affordable, and it also supports the retention effort,” Ebersole said.

Raines said there are specific guidelines to make the model work.

“It’s another dynamic included in our budget process,” he said. “We have to break out the students eligible from new students, and then project how that will affect our budget.”

Raines said though it is hard to tell now how much it will change, historical data can be used to make sure a guaranteed tuition model would still benefit the school’s finances because the extra edge could attract more students to choose WSCC.

“Those students would see their tuition set at a reasonable rate, and as good consumers they would see it as a wise thing to do,” Ebersole said.

Future goals

Ebersole said though HB 484 is a big step in the right direction, WSCC is pushing for more legislation with other community colleges.

“The Ohio College Opportunity Grant is something the community college lobby pushes very hard for,” he said. “It’s state money for students to pay for tuition, and community colleges were cut out of the fund in 2009.”

WSCC is hoping to help the Ohio Association of Community Colleges to lobby for the re-inclusion of community colleges, and said that is one of the next big steps to strengthen the institution and find more help for students to attend and graduate.