Ivy Tech Community College -the statewide community college system in Indiana – recently adopted a block tuition model for full-time students. The system will charge a flat tuition rate when a student enrolls in 12 or more credit hours. Part-time students will continue to pay per-credit-hour, however the system has frozen tuition for the next two years. About 29% of Ivy Tech students in 2019 enrolled full time.
In addition, the system will offer textbooks to its students at no charge for the 2021-22 school year. The system will use federal funds to pay for textbooks for all enrolled students. Following that, students will be assessed a textbook fee as part of their enrollment According to Ivy Tech President Sue Ellspermann, most students forego acquiring textbooks because they cannot afford them. In many cases, students cannot use scholarships or other financial aid to pay for textbooks. Assessing a textbook fee enables students to use scholarships to pay for required texts.
Recently, I wrote about block tuition, which most public universities in Michigan have adopted for full-time students. Community colleges have not employed block tuition because most community college students attend part-time. Universities use the approach to encourage students to graduate on time. Additionally, it allows students to better control their tuition costs. Ivy Tech is among the first community colleges in the US to introduce block tuition for full-time students.
Block tuition model isn’t the only possible adjustment
Depending upon the institution’s goals, adjusting the tuition model could improve enrollment, persistence or completion rates. It could also offer students some degree of cost certainty. Knowing how much a program costs could entice some students to enroll consistently enough to complete degree programs.
Reducing the overall cost of attendance could also help convince students to enroll or remain enrolled. Building the cost of textbooks (or laptops or other expenses) into the tuition rate could broaden the options available to students for paying for school. Currently, students can use federal financial aid for books and other expenses, so this change would impact private scholarships.
Ultimately, block tuition is not likely to vastly increase the number of full-time students at a community college. Most students work either part-time or full-time and cannot devote additional time to more classes. It could, however, encourage more full-time students to graduate on-time. Rolling the cost of textbooks into the tuition rate will not lower the cost of attendance. However, it can improve the quality of the learning experience, which will appeal to employers and university transfers.
There are many options available for increasing enrollment, retaining students, and encouraging them to complete a degree program. The WCC Board of Trustees should not consider any sideline “investments” of public education dollars until the WCC administration has exhausted all other options.
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