NCGA Considers Year-Round Community College Funding
Cracks are appearing in the longstanding school tradition of breaking for the summer; not everyone prefers the traditional schedule. In some circles, a year-round schedule is gaining in popularity. For example, in Wake County, more than a third of elementary schools have year-round schedules.
The need for flexible schedules is more pronounced at the postsecondary level. College is no longer just for recent high school graduates; in North Carolina’s community college system, the third-largest system in the nation, the average student is 28 years old. College students of the older, “nontraditional” variety need flexibility. They often have steady jobs, families, and other priorities, and would prefer the option to finish as quickly as possible, without summer-long breaks.
A proposal in the North Carolina General Assembly may allow community college students to be unshackled from the constraints of the standard school year. It’s pretty straightforward: Let community colleges offer courses over the summer, not just in the fall and spring semesters.
A 2013 law allows the state’s 58 publicly funded community colleges to offer classes in some fields. Those are science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses; health care courses; technical education; and developmental education. However, most summer classes are not authorized for state funding.
Two bills extending the community college school year were proposed in the North Carolina House of Representatives this year. The first, House Bill 15, introduced in January (and co-sponsored by Representative Collins), proposed funding summer courses that are transferable to all 16 University of North Carolina system campuses for general education credit.
The second, House Bill 579, was introduced in April and expanded on the first. It called for funding all curriculum courses (any courses for which students earn academic credit) — not just general education transfer courses.
House Bill 97, the House budget bill, added $17 million to the community colleges’ budget to cover the costs of year-round education.
The Senate budget for the community college system did not include the additional funding, and the two chambers are negotiating their differences.
Governor Pat McCrory gave year-round education a big push forward by including it in his budget proposal early this year. “The governor felt like it was important to accelerate the talent pipeline and ensure that community colleges, the state’s main work force development engines, were in year-round ‘production,’ just like our state’s businesses,” said Mary Shuping in an email to the Pope Center. Shuping is the director of government relations at the North Carolina Community College System.
The proposal could save the state money. It could improve the use of building space that currently sits empty during the summer months. Additionally, it costs students and taxpayers less to get credits at community colleges rather than state universities. University of North Carolina students could speed up their degree completion by taking transferable courses over the summer. Year-round funding also would permit more faculty members to earn money teaching over the summer.
McNeill acknowledged the risk involved, however. “You’re funding something to a certain level, and you don’t know that the students will actually take advantage of it,” he said. “We’ll probably need a year or two of data to determine what the actual need, or whatever you want to call it, is going to be.” That risk is to the tune of $17 million, which is 1.5 percent of the overall budget for community colleges.
The preceding article was written by Harry Painter, a writer for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, and was first published on June 25th in the Carolina Journal Online. It reappears here with permission, and we’ve embedded appropriate hyperlinks within its text for your further reference and information.