Louisiana Community College System Pushes for Funding Changes
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Louisiana’s president of community and technical colleges is pushing for changes to a state funding formula.
Dr. Joe May says colleges should receive money for some students who do not finish their coursework.
But the Louisiana Board of Regents says that is not likely to happen soon.
As students at Delta College in Monroe dash off to class, two remain in the student coffee lounge to press on with their studies.
Delta College Student, James Marchant
He left the Navy in 2007 when he developed a serious diabetic condition. Marchant says he collects a partial disability check and works part time at a convenience store, but he’s looking for more challenging work.
“I’m studying sociology and history. I am looking to double major in both of those to kind of enhance my employment opportunities.”
Marchant hasn’t decided what job he will pursue, but he’s considering journalism and teaching.
Forty-six-year-old Charles Carpenter owns a turf farm. He says business is slow and he’s tired of the turf business. Carpenter hopes that coursework on manufacturing will provide career opportunities.
“I’m just kind of in transition. But hopefully I can get through school before I run out of money, yeah.”
Both Marchant and Carpenter fit into an age category that the president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, Joe May, says puts them at risk of not completing coursework. May says other high-risk students include those who have not completed high school, as well as single parents.
May says community colleges are unfairly penalized for working with students who fit this description.
“When they admit high risk students that need lots of additional remediation or are at high risk from completing – right now we spend a lot of resources to really scaffold them up and help them be successful. But as would be predicted by looking at their background in many cases, many of them do not complete.”
And if they do not complete?
“We get zero funding for them. So this college, after having spent a lot of time, energy, resources, hired faculty and invested in them – simply because of the fact they didn’t finish the course we get zero funding for that.”
But the Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education for the Board of Regents, Jim Purcell, says colleges need to accept responsibility for student achievement.
“We certainly understand that students don’t complete courses. We’re aware of that and we’ve built that into our understanding of how to fund these institutions. We know that students drop out for multiple reasons but campuses can plan for that, just like an airline can plan for the number of people on a plane. We want to reward performance.”
Joe May says community colleges need financial guarantees when they serve students who require more help than others.
“An individual that comes in with poor math skills, poor reading skills and poor writing skills may not be able, in the same time frame, to bring themselves up to speed. Also, life gets in the way. These individuals are working, they have children and many times family issues interfere with their ability. We understand that and we work with them and we support them, and we want to see them be successful. But we also realize than many of them are going to have to come back again and again in order to benefit from what we have to offer.”
Still, Higher Education Commissioner, Jim Purcell, says that despite these concerns, the state funding package is more than fair.
“Let’s just say that for a class we have twenty students that enroll in the semester. And what we in our formula do is fund the students that remain at the end of the semester. So let’s say that seventeen stay. Well, we’re going to pay that school for seventeen students.”\
A Louisiana Community and Technical College System representative said in an email that the organization is “working to make adjustments so that no student is excluded or denied access.”
Still, Joe May says that the funding formula for the coming year must be presented at the start of the legislative session in March. And e hopes to discover at that time whether appeals made to the Board of Regents will result in a change.
Higher Education Commissioner, Jim Purcell, says that the funding formula can be modified as situations change. But he says there are no plans to alter the current arrangement based on students who do not complete courses.