Ceiling on contact hours proposed

MCCC’s Board of Trustees was asked to put a ceiling on the number of contact hours paid by students at its meeting Monday night.

Trustee Linda Lauer made the proposal.

“I am trying to get other trustees to think about it,” Lauer said.  “I didn’t feel much support.”

Video: Lauer and Nixon talk about contact hours

She first voiced this concern at the board meeting in October. Her concern grew when more revenue than expected was brought in by the billable contact hour system for the Fall and Winter semester, Lauer said.

To balance the budget, MCCC needed to receive $600,000 from the change to contact hour billing, MCCC President David Nixon said. 

The combined enrollment from the Fall and Winter semester brought in almost $815,000 from contact hours, Lauer said.

“More revenue than we expected is positive; that’s great,” Trustee Bill Braunlich said. “We estimated conservatively.”

One cause for the increase in the number of paid contact hours is the growing enrollment numbers.

Another headcount was done on Jan. 21 – the end of the 100 percent refund period for dropped classes.  The headcount determined there are 4,562 MCCC students this semester.       

The number of students has grown 5% since last Winter, which is a smaller amount than was reported on the first day of classes, Registrar Paul Schmidt said.

Compared to other Michigan community colleges, MCCC’s growth in enrollment is relatively low, President Nixon said.

Nixon said he is satisfied with the college’s enrollment numbers.

“Most people don’t realize that more credit hours doesn’t mean more funding from the state,” he said.  “Michigan doesn’t reward community colleges in that way.”

Nixon said the number of MCCC students is manageable.

“We would rather be able to manage our growth.  Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to serve all of the students,” he said.

The growth in students also led to a 9.5 percent increase in the number of credit hours this semester, Schmidt said.

“This means we have to hire more adjuncts to teach the extra classes,” Nixon said.

He also said full-time faculty members have taken on more classes to help with the increasing number of credit hours.

“When they teach extra classes, it’s like overtime for faculty, which leads to more expenses,” Nixon said.  “They are teachers providing education; that is important.”

One expense is the 80 percent of revenue that pays for MCCC employee salaries and benefits, Nixon said.

Before March, The Board of Trustees will need to determine whether or not to raise tuition next year.

“If I had to say what the outcome would be right now, I don’t think we will have to,” Nixon said.  “This is possible because of the switch to contact hours.”

The decision is based on several factors; one being the amount of state funding the college will receive.

“We will need to call an extra study meeting to discuss Michigan’s financial situation before we make any decisions on tuition,” Nixon said.

Lauer said a limit on contact hours would help the small number of students who had to pay the largest increase.

If, for example, the difference between credit hours and billable contact hours was capped at eight, it could cut out about 15 contact hours for several students.

“That translates to a loss of about  $30,000 for the college, which in the scheme of things is not that much money for the school,” Lauer said. “The college is working with almost $26 million.”

She said she is concerned for students in the health care field specifically because of their large increase in the cost of tuition.

“I think anytime you make a policy change you need to monitor the outcome,” Lauer said.  “In physical therapy, we do that all the time.”

Lauer said her concern for the students comes from her professional background.  She is the owner and chief therapist of Holistic Physical Therapy.

She added that she understands the high cost of schooling related to the health care field, because she studied health care in college.

“Not only do these students have to worry about tuition and books, but they have to pay for very expensive medical books, health insurance, medical equipment, driving to clinical, and much, much more,” Lauer said.

The cost of schooling for many health care programs, such as nursing, have increased with the switch to contact hours, but President Nixon said this is a way to manage the competitive field.

“The health care programs are in the greatest demand because of jobs,” he said.

Nixon said that because these programs are so competitive, charging tuition by billable contact hours is a way to manage the large number of students applying.

 “If students can’t pay the premium price for a high-end program, someone else on the waitlist might be willing to,” he said.

“In comparison to other Michigan colleges, we still offer lower prices for these programs,” Nixon said.