It seems like such a simple statement: when you remove barriers to enrollment, students enroll. Likewise, when you remove barriers to completion, students graduate. When you see cost as a barrier (even when that cost seems modest to you personally), students show up on campus. Two examples of this are in the news right now.
OCC offers more laptops to qualifying students
Yesterday, Oakland Community College (OCC) announced that it would provide 1,400 laptops free to qualifying students next semester. To qualify, students must enroll in at least 12 credits during the Winter semester.
OCC introduced its first laptop program this fall. Using CARES Act funding, the school provided 2,100 qualifying students with laptops. At a total cost of $1M, each laptop has an average cost of less than $300. So, for less than $300 per student, OCC enrolls or retains 3,500 students. Based on OCC’s in-district tuition rate of $97 and 12-credit hour enrollment, those 3,500 students will generat nearly $4.1M in FY21.
The CARES Act funding paid for the laptops this year, but that funding won’t last forever. Potentially, OCC could replicate the program using its own funds. At $97/credit hour, a 60-credit program would generate $5.820 for OCC. Subtract the $300 laptop cost and OCC would realize a net of $5,520 per student. That’s an effective tuition rate of $92 per credit hour.
A simple reduction of $5 per credit hour per student nets 3,500 new full-time students every year. It also nets new tuition revenue of $7.72M annually. For the student, it removes a barrier to completing their coursework. It also puts them into an academic program that either prepares them for the workforce or enables them to transfer to a university. For the community, it produces productive, educated residents who participate meaningfully in the local economy.
Why would you not do this?
Promise programs remove barriers to enrollment for minorities
A recently published study by researchers at the Southern Methodist University and Florida International University showed that “promise” programs substantially increase minority and female enrollment. Promise programs are those that pay community college tuition for all students in a specific geographic area, like a school district or a city.
The study, which was funded by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), showed that promise programs increased community college enrollment by 23% over comparable areas without a promise program. Demographically, promise programs increased enrollment by Black males by 47% and Black females by 51%. Similarly, the programs increased Hispanic male enrollment by 40% and Hispanic female enrollment by 52%. The programs also increased enrollment by White students and Asian—Pacific Islander females when they included a merit qualifier. Black males benefited most from programs that had a need-based qualifier.
Promise programs benefit minority students and local community colleges. Minimally, it provides a wide range of career options for underserved minority groups. The benefits could carry farther, though. At a time when minority enrollment at universities is declining, promise programs could create a high quality transfer option for students who want to pursue further studies.
As a community college, why would you not pursue every possible option to create a program that benefits the students, the community college and the community, and also indirectly benefits universities who are anxious to recruit minority students?
There are lots of strategies to remove barriers to enrollment at a community college, even when the economy is poor. If anything, free laptops, free community college and promise programs show that there is a huge untapped market (complete with high demand) for higher education, as long as community college leaders apply a little creativity to remove barriers to enrollment.
Photo Credit: Nenad Stojkovic , via Flickr