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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

PHCC may waive some fees for school district


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BROOKSVILLE - Pasco-Hernando Community College administrators will meet Monday to discuss what fees the college could potentially waive for Hernando County School District's dual-enrollment program in light of a new state law requiring school districts to cover tuition costs for students dual-enrolled in college courses, according to Burt Harres, Vice President of Instruction and Provost at PHCC's West Campus.

The meeting serves to amend an annual articulation agreement between the college, Pasco, and Hernando county school districts and to clarify what administrative costs the school districts will be on the hook for during the 2013-14 academic year.

"We've had an exceptionally fine working relationship with the school system, and I'm confident we're going to work this through for a mutually beneficial agreement," Harres said. "We just have to keep focus on the students, and if we do that it'll work out in the end."

The new law, Senate Bill 1514, is expected to take effect July 1. The legislation passed before the three parties could officiate the articulation agreement, which they do every year, Harres said.

"We had come to an agreement on wording, and both those agreements were approved by the college board of trustees," Harres said. "As I understand it, Hernando County School Board did approve the articulation agreement, and Pasco's was tabled, and now that this legislation passed there needs to be an amendment as far as costs the school districts would have to pay for tuition of dual-enrolled students attending our campuses."

Standard PHCC tuition fees would be $103.18 per credit hour, and of that $76.57 factors into tuition and the rest are fees, Harres said. However, state statute sets the standard tuition rate at $71.98 per credit hour, or $4.59 less per credit hour per dual-enrolled student, which is the amount Hernando and Pasco school systems would need to reimburse the college for students taking courses on PHCC campuses.

School districts have had to cover costs for instructional materials, like textbooks, in the past, which they still have to do and that is projected to cost Hernando County School District $96,693.44 for the upcoming year for its dual-enrolled students. But with the Senate bill mandating school districts now cover tuition fees as well, rather than colleges continuing to absorb those costs, Hernando County is projected to spend $546,496 it did not budget for.

"Senate Bill 1514 did catch a lot of people by surprise," Harres said. "For quite some time there's been dialogue among community college presidents sharing their visions for colleges, and were certainly in conversation with superintendents about concern that colleges were waiving all the tuition."

"For instance, last year we waived $2.3 million in tuition for dual-enrolled students," Harres added. "That's a lot of money. The statutes say we can't charge the students, but we're saying, 'We need some revenue source to offset this cost.'"

Harres said there have been a lot of misconceptions about college's roles in the new Senate bill, including allegations that community college presidents embarked on some concerted lobbying effort to get Senate Bill 1514 passed, which were some of the comments brought up at the State Board of Education's meeting this month.

"Colleges were not seeking money from the school system - colleges were looking at trying to identify a funding source, but not specifically trying to tap into school system dollars," Harres said. "For example, maybe looking at Bright Futures as a funding source. I wasn't privy to that conversation, but I think there has been a misconception there was some kind of behind-the-scenes lobbying going on to do this."

But to his knowledge there was not any initiative from community college presidents necessarily thinking the school districts had to reimburse them out of their funds, Harres said.

"The Legislature, however, came up with this particular determination of how those funds would be offset, and with the best of intentions there was consequences obviously that hit the school districts by surprise," he said.

Especially since this half-million dollar baseline is going to be a recurring budget item for years to come, not to mention the dual-enrollment program more than doubled from 2,197 students in 2009-10 to 4,287 students in 2011-12.

"We really want to work with the school districts and I think the agreements will be made that will be helpful for everyone," said Lucy Miller, executive director of communications for PHCC. "Things have evolved to the point (the dual-enrollment program) was so popular and demanding on our budget, we have to weigh out every aspect."

Many higher education institutions across the country have shifted that weight onto students in the form of tuition increases, although Florida students are in the fortunate position of studying in a state where 19 public, four-year colleges were identified by the U.S. Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center Friday as being in the bottom 10 percent for tuition and fees in the nation.

The average for tuition and fees in the Florida College System's public, four-year institutions is $2,792, which is below the mid-point of the national average of $7,135 - a figure that represents a 15.6 percent national average tuition cost increase - and the average for tuition and fees for public, two-year institutions in Florida is $2,727, which is below the national average of $2,905: a figure that constitutes an 18.2 percent national average tuition increase.

But there are still nine other public colleges in the state, and of Florida's 28 total public colleges, student fees covered nearly half the funding for all of them in 2011-12, or a total of $924 million.

For instance, tuition for University of South Florida - St. Petersburg increased 40 percent from $3,713 in 2009-10 to $5,200 in 2011-12, or a difference of $1,487, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Harres said Monday's meeting will be about seeking a balance between easing a burden they used to carry that is now on Hernando and Pasco school systems' shoulders, and staying compliant with the law that allowed that shift, although it appears students from all three institutions, whether dual-enrolled or not, will benefit in the end.

"It is our intent to, as best we can, minimize the financial burden that would be placed on Pasco and Hernando county schools, yet still ensuring the college is in compliance with this statute," Harres said. "Whether or not they agree or feel those dollars are too much or too little, bottom line is that's the law, and we're going to propose an articulation to the agreement to make sure we can figure this out."

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