Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Alamo Colleges recently changed the tuition structure for students taking a "full-time" course load, 18+ hours per school year. The structure will raise tuition, but offer free summer courses for students working toward their associates degree.
Costs also will decrease for students outside Bexar County, from 2.71 times the in-district cost, to 2.35 times. Out-of-state tuition will remain the same, at 5.35 times the cost of in-district tuition.
A letter from the office of Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie explained the changes as a way to keep students from losing momentum as they pursue a degree. The letter cites studies that show students taking fewer than six credit hours per semester are more likely to eventually stop pursuing their degree. These students are less likely to take summer school, and many fall away during those months, what educators call "summer melt."
The tuition change will create a "new source of revenue" for the district, according to the letter, however it will benefit the students of the colleges, and, if it has the intended effect, increase the district's full time enrollment and degree attainment.
Maintaining momentum is one of the biggest challenges facing many community college students according to officials within the Alamo Colleges district. The 74% of the student body attending school part time may take up to five years to achieve an associates degree, with financial burdens and social distractions eating away at the overall completion rate along the way.
Without degree completion, the value of community college, which is subsidized by county taxes, is diminished, the letter explained. Students do not have the value of their degree, and thus cannot pay back into the community through higher paying jobs, increased income taxes, and a strengthened workforce.
In 2010, a joint commitment between the American Association of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development, League for Innovation in the Community College, Phi Theta Kappa, and Center for Community College Student Engagement set a goal of a 50% completion rate for community college students seeking a degree or certificate.
In their statement, "The Democracy's Colleges Call to Action," participating groups pledged to "mutually commit and pledge to promote the development and implementation of policies, practices, and institutional cultures that will produce 50% more students with high quality degrees and certificates by 2020, while increasing access and quality."
Alamo Colleges' new strategy also includes guidance counseling to ensure students are taking the most direct and effective route to the degree they need and the field they eventually want to enter. Those services also will help students make the transition into a four-year institution or the workforce.
Many community college students must balance financial responsibilities, such as caring for family, with their educational pursuits. Alamo Colleges is partnering with United Way of San Antonio to provide support during events that would tip that balance and prevent students from completing their degree.
"Students will be encouraged to increase the number of hours they take, with additional academic and social support to ensure they are successfully completed," the chancellor's letter said.
The rate change gets rid of the banded rate of $504 for one to six credit hours, with a flat rate increase for every additional credit hour. The new rate of $86 per credit will increase the fee for students taking six or more hours, but reduce it for students take five or less. The free summer class incentive is intended to compensate for the increased tuition.
The Chancellor's letter explains the tuition incentives as follows:
"A student who earns a total of 24 credit hours in the fall 2016 and spring 2017 (9+15 or 12+12) receive up to six free credit hours in the subsequent summer, allowing them to earn the 60 hours needed for their degree in just two years. A student who earns a total of 18 credit hours in the fall and spring (9+9 or 6+12) receive three free credit hours in the subsequent summer, allowing them to complete in three years. The first student saves $141 annually, the second saves $186 annually and, of course the $15,000 per year for every year they would have spent beyond two years."
The Alamo Colleges board approved the changes at their meeting on Oct. 18.