Last year, Lower Columbia College lost about 200 students — and about $600,000 in revenue — due to the unintended consequences of a government mandate, LCC President Chris Bailey said Thursday.
The U.S. Department of Education mandated that students pass two-thirds of the college credits they attempt — or have ever attempted — to remain eligible for federal aid. The rule “sounds good,” Bailey said. “You’re not going to throw money at someone who won’t work hard.”
But the mandate also hampers mature students from taking a second shot at a degree if they had done poorly on the first try, no matter how many years ago. The rule, which is still in effect, factors in every class a student had taken, and every withdrawal counts as a failure.
“We lost 6 percent of our full-time-equivalent students from this single regulation last year,” Bailey said, speaking at LCC’s Community Conversations lecture.
Bailey’s lecture, “Higher Education and Politics,” focused on how LCC is often at the mercy of the political process.
State budget cuts, he said, have reduced LCC’s funding 26 percent since 2008, even though it makes more sense to support colleges during a recession.
“When the economy goes south, where do people go? School,” he said, which is why LCC’s enrollment shot up, peaking at 50 percent over what was funded.
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“The state used to provide 77 percent of our funding,” he said. “Now it’s just below 50 percent.”
Colleges and universities are being forced to become more entrepreneurial to cope with reduced state support, he said.
As an example, he pointed to LCC’s newly revived International Student Program, under which the college hopes to enroll up to 100 foreign students — each of them paying three times the tuition of in-state students. Other examples are electronic learning — “which makes us a destination college from all over the state” — and summer classes that university students can take as transfer credits to help them finish a bachelor’s degree in four years.
Bailey said LCC will closely monitor the Legislature’s effort to fill a $900 million budget gap when it convenes in January. The college is worried it will fall short of what is needed to finish its new health and science building. And the Legislature also must deal with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary Decision, which ruled that the state is not adequately funding basic education.
“If their cuts are going to be less, what does that mean for the rest of us?” he asked.
And what if the federal government falls “off the fiscal cliff,” Bailey asked, using the colloquial term for more than $500 billion in tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect after Jan. 1 if Congress and President Barack Obama can’t reach an alternative deficit-reduction deal.
“What does that do to students wanting to come to school? They need aid and assistance. When those are cut, it affects us, too.”