The path to affordability looks different from institution to institution. At the recent EDUCAUSE annual meeting in Denver, Colo., Betty Young, President of Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, spoke on her vision for bringing affordable course materials to students. Passionate about arming her students for their careers but not driving them deeper into debt, Young is launching an all-inclusive pricing model for students at Hocking where full-time students will play just $300 per semester for all course materials starting fall 2019. I recently sat down with Young to share her insight and best practices with fellow community college leaders.
Shannon Moore-Zuffoletto: Higher education has come under criticism on multiple fronts in recent years: on affordability (rising prices/student debt), outcomes (whether students are emerging with the skills that employers want), access (whether elite colleges are enrolling enough low-income students), lack of respect for multiple viewpoints, etc. Which of these, if any, do you consider to be the most legitimate critique, and which one troubles you the most?
Young: We are experiencing a widening gap between affluent and impoverished people, I find that very troubling. The negative impact on society and our respect for multiple viewpoints and civility in our culture grows as the gap between those that believe in their ability to achieve a future of prosperity and those that do not. It continues to be true that earning credentials for the world of work is essential to advance on that pathway to prosperity. Set in this context, affordability and matching students to programs aligned with specific employers are legitimate concerns of the public. Colleges like Hocking College are establishing internships and/or related work programs with employers including the college itself to help students pay for college and to develop their work readiness and specific job skills.
SMZ: In education, we often pit affordability and quality against one another as if they cannot exist together. Is that the case?
Young: There is some point in which without adequate resources an institution of higher education will lose its ability to meet the needs of students and therefore quality of the programs and services needed for student achievement will diminish. This is not unique to higher education. That said, a less expensive institution does not equate to less quality. There is a role for technology in decreasing costs and improving quality. We must, in higher education, be willing to explore new business models for delivery of quality programming that improves learning and improves affordability and access.
In fall of 2019, we will fully implement a new model for all first-year students and anticipate the fee for a full-time student to be $300 per semester, far less than the typical cost of books. This fee will include Cengage Unlimited and loaned books or other open source or faculty developed resources. For the part-time student, the fee is pro-rated based on number of credits taken.
This model leads us to an all-inclusive pricing model, by program, to help entering students plan for funding the completion of a program without surprises. Courses also include fees for tools of the trade in technical programs, again to assure no surprises when the student begins their program. An example would be knives for the culinary student or mechanics tools for the auto program and uniforms for nursing and health programs.
The rhetoric on Capitol Hill and in the media around affordability represents a lack of understanding of what the “cost of education” really is. With 50% of undergraduates attending two-year colleges and that population representing the highest level of financial need among all college students the lack of understanding of college cost hurts the ability of these students to access funds needed to succeed. For two-year college students the cost of housing, meals, transportation, child-care, care of a family and lack of assistance from anyone is not considered in cost of education. These students also forgo employment to be in school further contributing to their negative financial position. This is the true cost of attending college.
SMZ: Will a focus on affordability always degrade quality in learning? What role does technology play in ensuring quality?
Young: Focusing on affordability does not degrade quality. We have an obligation to continually improve operations that help reduce overhead and, in the process, use technology and design of programming to improve learning. Start with why we are focusing on something, fill in the blank. Second, look at what we want to see as a result and third, how solutions, including technology, our processes and policies impact our outcomes. Living in a continuous quality improvement mindset and with the political will to try new ways of doing business, including the will to stop doing things that do not work, are the keys to both achieving highest affordability and quality standards.
SMZ: What are you doing to increase affordability at Hocking College? What recommendations would you give to your peers and fellow institutional leaders?
Young: Creating an all-inclusive pricing model so there are no surprises for the student will assure students have the learning materials and tools of their trade to be successful in their program of study. With the number of institutions and delivery models available today access is more about cost than it is about location. A prospective student receives a one-page document with all courses, course fees and associated costs clearly presented. Hocking College is a residential campus and a similar document is provided for those living on campus fully disclosing all housing costs.
Armed with total cost information students can approach their financial aid packaging with a valid plan for paying for college which may include a work requirement. Hocking College administers the federal work-study program and in addition provides campus-work-study opportunities of $1 million annually. This program is intended to assist the student in paying in balance owed, as well as teaching students workplace skills needed for successful careers. Skills such as arriving at the workstation on time, giving your best effort while at work and building successful workplace relationships with supervisors and co-workers.
All-Inclusive pricing, financial aid packaging, work requirements and other innovative strategies will assure the student is fully funded and the institution does not struggle with unpaid accounts negatively affecting budgets.
SMZ: Can you expand on how Hocking College’s All-Inclusive Model, including partnering with Cengage?
Young: At Hocking College, we have collaborated with Cengage Unlimited to design a fee model for all learning materials for students. This single fee covers all learning materials, including Cengage online titles; where titles are not available the College is purchasing books for loan to the student; the State of Ohio has supported state-wide collaboration on developing open learning resources for some gateway courses; and faculty develop learning materials or source learning materials from various open sources. The student pays a single fee each semester for access to whatever learning materials apply to their courses.
Because there is no surprise for the student regarding the cost of books and therefore no delay in purchasing books, all students have access on day one to the materials they need for the courses. We implemented this new model as a pilot in the fall for our incoming business students. It was received with great success and all of our business and general education titles were available for this program through Cengage making the initial implementation simple.