Congress asks: How are you cutting costs?

Controlling college costs was the topic of congressional hearings last week, reports Community College Times.

At Keeping College Within Reach, a House Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee hearing, college leaders discussed performance-based funding, accelerated credential completion, “prior learning” credits and streamlining transfers.

Federal higher education funding increased 155 percent over the last decade, yet students are paying more, said House Subcommittee Chair Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican.  “If government subsidies aren’t producing more affordable education in the current system, we cannot keep writing bigger checks,” she said. “We need to look to states and postsecondary institutions for creative solutions.”

Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said enrollment has increased by 55 percent over the last five years while state support has dropped by 37 percent.

By merging colleges, nixing redundant courses, aligning programs with market demands, consolidating information technology systems and sharing operations such as payroll and auditing services, the system is saving about $30 million annually, according to May’s written testimony.

. . . When Louisiana examined its transfer process, it founds that students who earned an associate degree were losing 21-24 semester credit hours in the transfer. Today, students who earn an associate degree at any Louisiana community college can easily transfer to Louisiana State University or any of the state’s 14 universities as a junior, May said.

. . .  On average, students save $2,117, while the state saves $1,930 per transfer student, May said. In addition, transfer students with an associate degree also use about $2,750 less in federal Pell Grants because it costs them less to earn their baccalaureate.

“Credit-hour creep” — requiring more than 60 credits for an associate degree — was dialed back for all but a few degrees. Students saved time and money —  an average of $1,100 — and the state saved $792 per student.

Students who move slowly to a degree usually give up along the way, said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. Jones also called for collecting data on part-time students, adult students and Pell recipients to determine what would help those students earn credentials.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Making College Affordability a Priority,  included testimony by Thomas Snyder, president of the Ivy Tech Community College system in Indiana, and Jim Murdaugh, president of Tallahassee Community College in Florida.

Raising tuition every year is not a “sustainable business model,” said Snyder, a former auto industry executive. Ivy Tech has streamlined textbook sales, registration, financial aid and procurement to save time and money, he said.

Ivy Tech’s Associate Accelerated Program (ASAP) lets low-income students earn a transferable degree in one year instead of two. By creating a learning community and including “significant wraparound services,” ASAP has raised completion rates to 75 percent, three times the national average for community college students.

Speeding students to a certificate or degree saves money, said Murdaugh. Tallahassee, which did not raise tuition this year, also requires underprepared students to take a college success course.

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