Tuition changed to contact hours

Jaimie Downes, a student in MCCC’s nursing program, found that the 13 credit hours she budgeted for this semester will now cost her $603 more than she planned.

“That doesn’t include books, scrubs, tools, health insurance, and the price to join the Michigan Student Nurses’ Association,” Downes said.

Downes, along with thousands of other MCCC students, is affected by the college’s decision to charge tuition by billable contact hour instead of by credit hour. The change was made to help balance the $25 million budget for the 2009-2010 school year.

“Instead of slamming one group of the student population, why not have every student just pay a little more per credit hour for tuition?” Downes asked.

With the switch to billable contact hour, students are paying $67 per contact hour, not credit hour.  Although the cost per hour has not changed since last year, the number of hours will be counted differently, depending on the type of class.

A science class with a lab is considered a four-credit hour class, but the lab adds three hours of contact every week, on top of the normal 3 hours of class time.  This means a student spends six hours with the instructor and that the student has to pay $67 for each of the six contact hours, instead of the four credits.

The cost of most three-credit courses will not change.  The student is in contact with the instructor for 3 hours a week, so that student only has to pay for those three contact hours.

MCCC President David Nixon said most students in transfer programs will not be heavily affected by the change, because these programs focus more on three-credit hour courses.  However, students in career programs such as nursing will be affected because of the lab time and longer amount of contact needed.

MCCC’s Board of Trustees collected data based on the number of students who had registered for classes by June.  According to their information, 54 percent of the 2,562 students who were registered would not see an increase in the cost of tuition.

Of the others, 85 percent would see an increase that was no higher than $300.  Three percent of those students would see an increase between $301 and $600, and two percent would see the highest increase of $1,500.

“Those are pretty good numbers, but we still have students in those extreme groups of increase,” Nixon said. 

Students who registered before June received letters as soon as the switch to contact hours was made, explaining why their cost of tuition was raised, Nixon said.

“Students affected by the change were told to speak with financial aid for help, if needed,” he said.

Nixon explained that a scholarship initiative has been started called Monroe Responds.  It is expected to help students in financial hardship based on their individual financial aid assessment.

People can donate money to Monroe Responds to help students in need.

“One lady came in here on Monday and gave us a check for $2,500,” Nixon said.

MCCC also won a federal Title III grant award totaling $1,665,967 over five years, which is designed to help the college raise money.

“It is a good coincidence that the college just earned a new grant that will help to provide funds to hire 2.5 people to try to find ways to increase financial aid,” he added.

Nixon said the idea of switching to contact hours has been discussed for about two years.

When the trustees saw that they might need to raise tuition to balance MCCC’s budget, they asked employees to submit some ideas on how to cut costs, he said.

“All employee groups made suggestions on how to save money,” Nixon said.  “Each group suggested the switch to contact hours.”

When trying to balance this year’s budget, the trustees also had to consider the condition of the state of Michigan and the amount of money that the college would receive from the state.

“It takes $25 million to actually run the college.  More than 80 percent of that is for salaries, insurance, and fringe benefits.  Less than 20 percent goes to actually running the college,” Nixon said.

He added that less than 20 percent of the $25 million is paid for by the state.

“That number is now down to about 16 percent,” Nixon said.

Since the state still has until Oct. 1 to balance its budget, the trustees still do not know exactly how much money they will receive from the state, Nixon said.

“The state of Michigan is near bankruptcy,” he said. “The state is still $2.5 billion dollars in debt.  They need to make up that money by Oct. first.  If they don’t, the college will receive even less money from the state.”

Although this could cause trouble for students, the trustees think the change will help MCCC to move forward.

“It’s significant to the future of the college.  It’s more than just balancing the current budget status. It’s an honest way of charging for instruction,” Nixon said.

Some people worry about how this will affect students.  MCCC Professor of History Dr. James DeVries is disappointed about the switch to contact hours.

“It all makes me kind of sad.  In essence we have changed the mission statement of the college,” he said.

Devries said that he understands these are tough decisions for the trustees to make, but he is skeptical about their procedure.

“They have to balance the budget, but they don’t want to shift money from the reserves,” he said. “What do we really have in reserves?  How much are we sitting on?”

DeVries has spoken openly about his opinion of the college’s finances.

“If I were support staff, I would say we did what we had to do.  The support staff has to be careful, but I can say what I want.  Faculty have contracts; they can’t fire us,” he said.

The students who might not be able to pay for college because of the new billing system are his main concern.

“If we cannot exist to provide opportunity, we shouldn’t exist,” DeVries said.

Nursing student Jaimie Downes agrees with DeVries.

“It seems like there is some shady business going on.  I mean, I like the college but the switch to contact hours just doesn’t seem to add up – not like my bills do anyway,” Downes said.”