Reporter’s notebook

  • Vaccine distribution hubs
  • More colleges freeze tuition

Vaccine distribution hubs

The Biden administration will look at how to leverage community colleges and minority-serving institutions as hubs for Covid vaccinations, in part, to reach low-income and people of color who may not have access to vaccines, according to a U.S. Education Department official.

“They all have deep connections within their community,” said Melanie Muenzer, chief of staff at the U.S. Education Department’s Office of the Under Secretary. “I think partnerships for helping with vaccine distributions through these institutions could go a long way in helping to ensure that people in the community are getting vaccinated both on campuses and within the general community itself.”

She added: “That’s an area that should be explored further, and that the administration will be looking into.”

Muenzer made the comments this week during a panel discussion on the future of higher education after Covid.

A growing number of community colleges across the country already serve as vaccination centers. Some are even staffed by students and graduates of the colleges’ healthcare programs.

More colleges freeze tuition

A growing number of community colleges in several states — from Arizona to Michigan, New Jersey to Alabama —are announcing plans not to increase tuition for the next academic year.

Many colleges are facing budgetary challenges resulting from the pandemic. Still, they are acutely aware that many of their students are struggling, often tapping resources provided by colleges, such as food and emergency grants, to get by and stay in school.

Several of the colleges that plan to freeze tuition note it is one way to help students contain costs colleges. The Alabama Community College System (ACCS) last week announced tuition will not increase for the 2021-2022 academic year for the 24 colleges in the system. Tuition at Alabama’s community colleges is $133 per credit hour, which is less than half the cost of tuition at the state’s four-year colleges and universities, according to ACCS.

In New Jersey, Union County College (UCC) announced this week that for the second consecutive year it won’t increase tuition.

“With the financial hardships caused by Covid-19, it was essential that we not raise tuition for our students,” UCC President Margaret McMenamin said in a statement. “We know cost is important, and our priority was making adjustments elsewhere, so we did not have to increase tuition.”

UCC also offers flat-rate tuition. Full-time students – those who register for 12 or more credits and live in-county – pay the same rate, $2,640.50, for 12 to 18 credits. So students can take additional credits for the same price to be more cost-effective, according to the college.

Also in New Jersey, Brookdale Community College and Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC) also won’t increase tuition. RCBC trustees on Thursday night were poised to approve a fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget of $43.9 million — a -1% decrease from the current year and a -6.8% drop from FY 2020. College officials hope keeping tuition as is, coupled with more vaccinations in the community and many in-person classes opening in the fall, may prompt more students to return to the college.

Colleges in Michigan, including Muskegon Community College (MCC) and Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC), also plan to freeze tuition. At GRCC, in-district tuition is $117 per contact hour, and the total cost for a full-time student will be $3,969 for the year. The college noted that it has historically kept tuition increases small, limited to 1.7% a year ago and 0.8% for the two years prior.

“Our world has changed in ways we could not have imagined a year ago,” said GRCC President Bill Pink, who also serves on the American Association of Community Colleges’ board of directors. “New skills are going to be needed as our employers respond and get up to speed. A GRCC degree or certificate helps our residents get the education they need to re-engage. We have always been the most affordable option for students. Our goal is to help as many people as possible.”

At MCC, the tuition rate of $121.50 per credit hour for in-district students, $227 for out-of-district students and $318 for out-of-state students will remain the same following last year’s 4% tuition hike.

Community colleges also have encouraged their students to tap other state and local programs to keep their college costs down. GRCC and MCC, for example, both noted the Michigan Reconnect program for residents ages 25 and older who have not yet earned a degree, and Futures for Frontliners, which supports students who worked in essential jobs during the spring pandemic shutdown.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.