Community College Remarks

By John Cox, President, Cape Cod Community College

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 Board of Higher Education Meeting

Chairman Gabrieli, Commissioner Santiago, Secretary Peyser, members of the Board, good morning.

On behalf of our community colleges, I want to share three points with you.

First, as the Commonwealth struggles with very difficult fiscal choices, our community colleges – and our state universities – are seeking the continued support of the Administration requesting full funding for each year of the collective bargaining agreement. In year’s two and three of the collective bargaining agreements between the unions and DHE, we seek the full funding of the obligation. 

Higher education benefits when the state fulfills its agreement with full funding, rather than using tuition and fee revenues to supplant state funding. 

As tuition and fee revenues continue to decline with enrollment reductions, and colleges do make the tough decisions to reduce services, and faculty and staff, with this potential unfunded mandate, colleges will be forced to reassess both the fees students must pay, and programs and staffing that can be supported.

We understand the ability – for both the community colleges and the state universities – to provide the highly educated and well-trained workforce so crucial to the state’s economic growth is dependent upon the state’s commitment. We ask for your active support with legislative leaders to make this an important part of their fiscal planning and budget action in the coming weeks.

While we’re talking about keeping college affordable, let me highlight my second point, the community colleges’ National Legislative Summit held last month in DC.  It was my pleasure to join with fellow Presidents, Trustees, and senior administrators from this and many other community colleges across the nation. This was an opportunity for our student trustees to shine, with Jasson Alvarado-Gomez sharing his story with members of our Congressional delegation. 

With the new Congress and new administration this was a particularly opportune time to advocate for Pell 2.0.  Recognizing the 2.8 million CC students who benefit from Pell, by using the available Pell reserve in the federal budget, we see the opportunity for year-round Pell, the reinstatement of eligibility for “ability to benefit” students, expansion to 14 FTE semesters or eligibility, and allowing access to Pell Grants for short-term workforce development programs.  The response among our Congressional delegation was strong and positive, as it was among many bipartisan members who attended the NLS.

For those who remained until the end of the summit, we were pleased that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, chose our Summit as the site of her first formal public address. She praised community colleges, in her words…as a uniquely American national asset…nimble, inclusive, and entrepreneurial…providing important and valued pathways to success in this competitive economy.  

While it was a positive acknowledgement – Jasson, and all the trustees and presidents, and staff who attended – our work is not complete.  The Trump Administration’s thin budget needs a little thickening.  Our $4 billion Pell reserve fund has been eliminated to offset the increase in defense spending.  The Pell 2.0 expansion – to open need-based financial aid up to more students choosing to learn on a different timeline, or through different programs, is not presently gaining traction within the administration.

It’s early, and there are several issues to monitor.  We need to continue to advocate collectively for our students, and the Pell Grant serves a basic need among many of our community college and state university students. I’m sure our student trustees will continue to help paint the picture of this critical funding commitment in an effort to recover the $4 billion and move to Pell 2.0, and I would ask the Board of Higher Education to take a position on this effort.

Finally, my third point. As community college leaders, we are working to take steps locally that can expand access, and limit the fiscal impact on students whenever possible. I have to give a shout out to my friends at North Shore Community College for their innovative pilot plan that several other colleges will be monitoring.  It’s the North Shore Promise Award, and it stems from a deeper dive in the admissions and enrollment data.  Many people apply to college but do not ultimately attend. 

North Shore reached out with a phone survey to over 1,000 who registered but did not show up for Fall 2016.  They spoke with over 850 potential students and found two common issues: How to pay for college and how to make the time for college – the opportunity cost of not working is too high.  Both answers are tied to ability to pay and college affordability.

When NS analyzed these potential students, they were not the one’s with the EFC of $0 nor were they the one’s with the highest expected contributions.  They are those students in the middle of the financial aid spectrum. Think of them all as sitting on the crossbar between the goal posts of a football field.

Students to their left – represented by that goal post, are fully covered by all financial aid. They attend college practically, if not, free of personal expense. Students to the far right, represented by that goalpost, qualify for little or no financial aid for a wide variety of reasons, including higher personal or family income. All the students in the middle are students we, in higher education, need to work with to help across the goal line, examining that unique combination of circumstances and funding sources to make it happen.

Stick with me; this is the Commonwealth Commitment on steroids.  North Shore focused on the 93 potential full-time students who did not earn enough public grant funding to cover tuition and fees. Most of these people were toward the higher income level end of the range of those eligible for federal and state grants.  The mean annual financial gap was just less than $1,500.  Fast-forwarding over a good deal of detail, North Shore committed to setting up the Promise Award, as a pilot, limiting the program to the first 100 FT students, based on the goalpost gap analysis, capping the College’s cost at about $150,000 per year. 

The program is open to new students, with a financial need, and a 2.7 high school GPA. This is another opportunity that ties well with the Commonwealth Commitment.  Focused to attract new, full-time students, with financial need, who might not come to the community college, or who might not even go to any college, they are being positioned for completion as our Promise Award students graduate from North Shore Community College, and transfer as juniors on the Commonwealth Commitment pathways to Salem State.

We do the math. With Salem State’s tuition and fees, through the ComCom, offset by the Pell Grant, state aid, and a SSU Need Grant, our Massachusetts graduate is completing in four years for a total net cost of $2,831.

Tuition & Fees $16,970
Federal Pell Grant - 4,340
State Aid - 3,800
SSU Need Grant - 6,000
Total Net Cost $  2,831

While most of our colleges budget for a level of financial aid, or tuition discounting, this pilot program offers a renewed approach to encourage full-time study and completion.

Pat Gentile and Pat Meservey and their teams’ work at executing this plan, is exciting, and there are several of us watching as we look at the potential to recast our own college’s efforts.

We applaud the efforts for crafting the Commonwealth Commitment degree pathways, and equally praise those at North Shore Community College for building a partnership with Salem State that can be an even more powerful pathway for student success.

As a quick recap of the three points: we need your ongoing support of efforts to fully fund the collective bargaining agreements; we need your support of restoration of the $4 billion of Pell reserve to support our nation’s students with demonstrated financial need; and, we are hopeful as we look forward to the success of NSCC’s Promise Award program.

I thank you the opportunity to speak before you this morning and serve our community colleges.