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CCME Grapevine 2015 April

MAE 2015 Volume: 10 Issue: 4 (May)

Best Practices in College Affordability by Joycelyn Groot

In my role on the CCME Board and as community college executive dean, the subject of "college affordability" is high on my list of burning issues and I welcomed the opportunity to facilitate a roundtable to address this topic. I was joined by a dynamic panel of experts comprised of Dr. Kara Van Dam, Vice Provost, Learner and Faculty Experience, University of Maryland University College, Michele Spires, Director of Military Programs, American Council on Education, Dr. Marshall Thomas, Director of Veterans Services, CSULB, and Taheesha Quarells, Education Programs Project Manager, DANTES.

With student debt as the number one consumer debt in the country, lowering the cost of education in the United States is a serious topic of discussion among higher education and government leaders. In a March 3, 2015 article in Community College Week, Governor John Kasich (Ohio) reportedly met with community college and university presidents where he signed an executive order creating a task force to examine ways to reduce costs, share services and increase efficiencies. "We are aware of the massive student debt - we can't fix it, but we're going to try to do some things to help you," Kasich said during the meeting.

The CCME roundtable session, "Best Practices in College Affordability" took on the same concerns as addressed by Gov. Kasich, but with focus on our military and veterans student population. The panelists and attendees were tasked with identifying areas that have an impact on the cost of education, and to build a "resource tool kit" that promotes college affordability.

Discussion included views and information addressing several areas, including President Obama's free community college initiative, which several agreed would reduce the cost to the student, but may not address low student completion rates or the impact on declining state college and university budgets. In regard to the cost of higher education, estimations about average costs were wide-ranging in figures, but also about what is included in "the cost" of education.

Discussion then focused on practices that have been implemented to help make college more affordable. Dr. Van Dam spoke of UMUC's aggressive approach to addressing the high cost of textbooks through its open resource initiative. According to the College Board (2015), a typical public higher education student's textbooks/materials average $1200 each year. Simply put, the decision many students make is not to buy their textbooks. UMUC is committed to a no-cost model for students, embedding carefully curated, high quality open educational resources throughout their courses.

Ms. Quarells addressed the importance of college readiness. Students who are underprepared risk spending tuition dollars for college preparation courses, driving the cost of their degree upward. She stressed the importance of college support personnel, and students themselves, possessing a good understanding of the free resources available to military students. She provided information about college-readiness resources found on the DANTES website, along with information about testing programs for college credit that can shorten the time to degree completion.

It was suggested that school officials not only keep abreast of resources available, such as those provided through DANTES, but also to share their knowledge to increase awareness among school personnel and students. Many session attendees agreed that educational briefings are less frequent due to the downsizing of education center staff, and this is having a direct impact on active duty military seeking quality information to make informed choices. More virtual events and use of social media can help, but networking and collaboration will increase awareness.

Dr. Thomas stressed the importance of understanding funding regulations, policies, and resources specific and available to service members, veterans, and their families and provided some specific examples as to how lack of knowledge (of the student and of the support staff) can result in very costly consequences.

Michelle Spires provided an overview about the American Council on Education programs and resources and the opportunity for military students to leverage their military training and experience toward a degree, which may result in significant cost savings.

Seamless pathways toward degree completion and bridging the gap between community colleges and universities were discussed at length. One program discussed was Coastline's Learning 1st Program whereby students can apply free, one application, for admission to both Coastline and a four-year university partner, have access to shared resources, and map out their financial obligations based on mutually approved degree requirements and fixed tuition rates.

The energy and engagement during each of the roundtables generated an abundance of information, ideas and resources. It was interesting that each of the sessions produced very different viewpoints and ideas, ultimately providing each attendee the opportunity to learn something new that could benefit their military/veteran students. Their candid and transparent nature clearly demonstrated a desire to share information for the betterment of the service member.

Jeff Cropsey Note from Jeffrey Cropsey, CCME President: CCME thanks Joycelyn Groot,
Coastline Community College, Executive Dean of Military Education,
Corporate Training and Business Development, for her synopsis of the
CCME Roundtable on Best Practices in College Affordability.
More information about the session outcomes will be available
soon at CCMEonline.org.

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