Community College trustees kill student loan program

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WASHINGTON, N.C. — A combination of factors has resulted in a dip in full-time enrollment at Beaufort County Community College for Fall 2015, but the news isn’t all bad. The staff and faculty are responding to the challenge by redoubling efforts to ensure that the institution meets the educational needs of the community as effectively and efficiently as possible.

First, the numbers: for Fall 2015, BCCC has 1,607 students enrolled in curriculum programs. For comparison, enrollment for Fall 2014 was 2,029.

Students enrolled in College and Career Readiness, Occupational Extension and Personal Enrichment courses through the Division of Continuing Education are calculated separately, and those numbers are expected to remain steady or even increase. Employees are still needed to fill the area’s trade jobs, and the short-term training programs offered through Continuing Education are designed to fulfill that need.

BCCC’s participation in the federal student loan program from 2010-2015 boosted enrollment numbers, but turned out to be problematic for both students and the college, as too many students borrowed more than they could afford and later defaulted on the loans. The college was required to inform students of the maximum amount they could borrow — which many did — and it was not permitted to run credit checks when issuing loans. Colleges with high default rates risk losing federal funding such as Pell Grants for students, so the Board of Trustees made the difficult decision to exit the student loan program, effective July 2015.

There were 604 students who participated in the student loan program in Fall 2014, and 408 of those students are not enrolled in fall classes this year, accounting for the majority of the drop in enrollment. Other factors include an improving economy — fewer students go to school when there are more jobs available — and the demographics of BCCC’s service area, whose population, especially of college-age residents, is not increasing.

The staff has worked hard to find other funding sources to help students pay for school and keep them enrolled, providing more emergency grants and scholarships, offering short-term loans to bridge the gap until financial aid checks are issued, and creating a payment plan option (starting Spring 2016). The college’s administration is also working to boost enrollment for 8-week Late Start courses that start in October, and to promote spring enrollment.

A drop in enrollment means a smaller budget for the next fiscal year, so efforts are also under way to streamline wherever possible by merging low-enrollment classes, using full-time instructors first to minimize the use of adjuncts, and offering more online courses, for which there is increasing demand.

The mission of BCCC is to meet the educational needs of our citizens and to train workers for the available jobs in our service area,” says BCCC President Dr. Barbara Tansey. “That means we are working constantly to make sure the college is the right size for our community and offers the right programs and services to meet its needs.”