This article compares Pennsylvania to states with an organized formal community college system.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is currently revising the manner in which noncredit community college courses are funded. The result will be the funding of fewer noncredit courses. Funding levels have also dropped in recent years. As a staff member of the Continuing Education Division of the Community College of Allegheny County--South Campus, these changes have prompted a curiosity regarding the funding of these types of classes in other states. A reasonable approach seemed to be to research states that have an organized, formal community college system. Accordingly, the following states were investigated: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. The level of funding, method of funding, and any recent or proposed changes in the funding system were to be considered. Grant-funded programs were excluded as being outside the realm of this study. All interviews except Pennsylvania were conducted by phone, followed by mailing a written summary to verify accuracy.
Noncredit courses in Alabama receive no funding from the state. According to Dr. Bert Slafter, Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education (personal communication, November 16, 1994), all are expected to be self-supporting, based on tuition charges. No changes are expected in this system.
Information on California comes from Frances Lee, dean of Continuing Education/Educational Cultural Complex at San Diego Community College (personal communication, December 5, 1994), and Norma Morris, Curriculum and Instructional Resources Division, Chancellor's Office (personal communication, December 6, 1994). The state of California fully funds noncredit courses in nine mandated areas: Parenting, ESL (English as a Second Language), Elementary & Secondary basic skills including GED preparation, Courses for Older Adults, Short-term Vocational, Courses for the Disabled, Health and Safety, Home Economics, and Citizenship. These courses are funded at 1/2 the rate of credit classes, somewhere in the $1,600-$1,700/annual FTE (Full-Time Equivalency) range. There is a cap on total expenditures, and there is some flexibility at the local level to determine how much of the budget will go to this area. FTEs are paid on the basis of actual number of hours of classroom attendance, based on class attendance records. Courses designated as Community Service, generally recreational and leisure, are self-funded, and must have a minimum of 15 paid fees for a class to be held. Funding is getting tighter each year. One result is that the teacher/student ratio has risen from one teacher to nineteen students, to the current level of one teacher to twenty-three students. This trend is expected to continue.
According to John Gannon, dean of Continuing Education at Manchester Community Technical College in Manchester, Connecticut (personal communication, December 14, 1994), noncredit courses in Connecticut must be self-supporting, based on participant fees. Some indirect costs, however, do receive funds from the general fund. These include costs for the dean and one on-campus staff member, classroom space, lights and heat, some postage costs, and other campus services such as security and custodial.
Florida distinguishes between recreational, academic, and vocational courses. By law, vocational courses are funded 10% by student fees and 90% by the state. Academic courses are funded 25% by student fees and 75% by state funding. Recreational/leisure courses are self-supporting. In sharing this information with me, Kenneth Jarrett, director of Financial Services, Division of Community Colleges for the state of Florida (personal communication, November 7, 1994), indicated that funding is based on an assessment of the previous year. As the budget is tight, programs and other funding needs such as instructional equipment, are prioritized, and funding allocations are increased or decreased accordingly. FTEs are one factor considered when budget decisions are made.
Georgia has two systems, one for junior colleges, and one for technical colleges. I contacted North Metro Technical Institute, a member of the technical college system, under the direction of the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education. Dan Willis, the Financial Aid Director (personal contact, December 2, 1994), informed me that in Georgia, noncredit courses do not receive state funding.
Many of the courses equivalent to noncredit courses in other states are termed "nontransferable credit" in Illinois. John Schou, director of Community and Continuing Education at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois (personal communication December 14, 1994), explained that all courses, both transferable and nontransferable credit, are reimbursable by the state, based on the number of credit hours. One credit hour is roughly equal to one student receiving 12.5 to 15 hours of instruction. The amount funded by the state for both transferable and nontransferable courses is determined by the category of the subject being taught. Illinois currently funds the following amounts:
The courses listed as General Studies are roughly equivalent to courses termed recreation/leisure in other states. The amount of funding for these courses is so low that at Rock Valley College the decision has been made not to apply for funding of these courses. The amount of paperwork needed to receive the funds makes it impractical at 79 cents per credit hour. As a result, the general studies courses are fully supported by participant fees.
Adult/GED courses $14.77/credit Business courses $19.19/credit General Studies courses $ .79/credit Health courses $59.94/credit Liberal Arts courses $25.78/credit Remedial courses $18.95/credit Technical courses $34.21/credit
Noncredit classes in Iowa are self-supporting; they receive no state funds, according to Doren Hulet, fiscal consultant, Division of Community Colleges (personal communication, December 2, 1994).
Ronald Hearn, Jr., assistant dean of Continuing Education at Ann Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland (personal communication, December 9, 1994), indicated that most noncredit courses in Maryland are funded based on FTEs, which are calculated at a rate of one FTE per 450 hours of instruction. Noncredit courses receive the same dollar amount per FTE as credit classes. Courses that are strictly recreation/leisure in nature are not funded.
The Minnesota Community College System receives a flat sum allocation. According to Gloria Vogt, director of Continuing Education, Minnesota Community Colleges (personal communication, December 6, 1994), the system then uses a formula to distribute funds, including an allocation for noncredit courses, to each campus. However, each of the 21 campuses, having received this allocation, can decide to use the funds however it sees fit. There is no requirement that funds designated as continuing education funds by the Minnesota Community College system, at the state level, be used that way.
In speaking with Ken Boham, vice president, Continuing Education, at Wake Technical College (personal communication, December 5), and Thomas King, senior vice president and chief financial officer of the Community College System of North Carolina (personal communication, January 13), I learned that continuing education classes in North Carolina are divided into four categories. In Occupational Extension classes, including job training, skills training, and upgrading of skills, courses are funded through FTE-based state funds and a $35/course participant fee, which goes to the state for redistribution throughout the system. FTE allocations, which are lower than credit FTE allocations, are currently $1,922.21/annual FTE. The second category is literacy, including adult basic education, GED, and adult high school. These courses are provided at no cost to the student, and are funded based on actual contact hours at approximately $3,000/FTE. Community Service courses include avocational and practical skills classes. All colleges receive a flat amount on a pro ratio basis so that senior citizens can attend these classes at no cost. Other students pay fees that are retained by the individual college. In the last three to four years, there has been a change in the funding for these courses from budget-driven to self-supporting. Finally, recreational courses are totally self-supporting.
Noncredit courses designated as occupational upgrade courses receive South Carolina state funding based on number of contact hours, according to Midland Technical College Associate Vice President, Continuing Education, Vann Gunter (personal communication, December 14). Funding varies by the size of the school and the allocations to that school. The amount of funding is based on a three-year rolling average, designed to avoid major changes all at once. Courses considered to be leisure/avocational in nature are not eligible for state funding.
The total allocation has remained level for the last 10 years. As a result, the per contact hour reimbursements have been lowered by roughly 50-100% over that time. It appears that funds will be available for another year. However, there is considerable opposition to this funding, and the long-term future appears uncertain at best.
In Virginia, administration and office operations for noncredit courses are reimbursed by the state. Courses are funded by participant fees. By law, noncredit courses must take in 130% of direct expenses. According to Forrest McKay, director of Continuing Education at Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) in Charlottesville, Virginia (personal communication, December 16, 1994), Piedmont College averages about 186% of direct responses. Funds received in this way are used to underwrite new program development.
The Pennsylvania system of funding has been evolving for the past several years. Until 1992, all noncredit courses were funded at the same rate as credit courses, which was $1000/FTE until 1993, according to Leslie Bartok, dean of Continuing Education, Community College of Allegheny County, South Campus (personal communications, September 19 and December 13, 1994). At that time a schedule was created to gradually increase FTE funding for credit courses and decrease funding for noncredit courses. In addition, noncredit courses were divided into funded and nonfunded courses. Generally, nonfunded curses are in the area of recreation/leisure. The current 1995 fiscal year is the second of a three-year plan, and community colleges now receive $832/noncredit FTE. Next year funding will go down to $756/FTE, where it is expected to stabilize. One FTE is earned for 180 hours of student attendance at a noncredit course, based on paid enrollments. There is no legislated cap on the number of FTEs that are funded. The money is budgeted at the beginning of the year based on the projected number of FTEs. At the end of the year adjustments may be made to reflect actual FTEs. Currently being phased-in are new definitions of courses qualifying for FTE reimbursement.
Money received from the FTEs earned goes into the general fund of each college; colleges decide how to use these funds. They need not be, and are often not, used in the Continuing Education program.
Summary and Conclusions
Recreation and leisure courses are unfunded or minimally funded in all states. Illinois, the only state that provided funding did so at a rate deemed "not worth the effort" by at least some of the colleges. This reflects the fact that these types of courses are generally for personal enjoyment, rather than significant educational benefit or employment, and, in times of tight state budgets, are difficult to support.
Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, and Virginia do not receive direct state funding for any of their noncredit classes. Some of these do receive funds for indirect expenses, such as administrative staff, classroom space, and postage.
A second category of states are those who have direct specified funding for certain categories of noncredit courses. California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina provide funding based on some formula related to FTEs, contact hours, or some similar system. Most have a cap on the amount of funding, resulting, in some states, with rations of teachers to students and/or dollars per course becoming less favorable. There is considerable concern in most of these states about the future of funding, particularly in areas where a specified percentage of course costs must be covered by state funding.
Minnesota's Community College System receives an allocation, which is then distributed to the various campuses with an amount earmarked for continuing education. Each campus must then establish its own budget, which may include a higher or lower amount for continuing education.
At issue in several places is the question, not only of how much money is available, but also about the priorities involved in funding various kinds of courses. Noncredit often includes courses designed for and taught to employees of a particular company. Should this be subsidized by the state? What is the difference in funding priorities between a course, for example, in computer word processing open to the general public, and one given to employees of a business?
Pennsylvania's current system has elements in common with various states, but has a unique combination of characteristics that create some interesting consequences. Like most states, courses in the area of recreation and leisure are self-funded. Course funding for those that qualify is based on FTEs. The major difference between Pennsylvania and other states in my study is that FTEs are fully funded without a cap, in the year in which they are acquired. This creates a powerful incentive to enroll the most students in the most courses possible. However, the recent changes, requiring that new courses fall within much more restricted guidelines to qualify for FTE reimbursement, appear to reflect a legislative intent to limit spending in this area, without the use of the cap common in other states. It should be noted that the funds from these FTEs go into the general fund, not directly to the continuing education programs. While open-ended funding for noncredit courses is wonderful for the continuing education programs, it presents some problems for the state legislature struggling with the budget. Therefore, alternate methods of funding are under consideration in Pennsylvania. What the effect will be on continuing education budgets remains to be seen.
Finally, another issue that relates to funding sources is the issue of flexibility and the ease with which departments can create new courses in response to changing needs. At one end, states that have self-supporting programs have great flexibility to create new courses quickly in response to changing needs in their community. They are limited, however, by the necessity of balancing course costs with the ability of the public to pay for them. Often, in considering vocational programs, the most expensive courses are the ones needed by the those least able to pay.
The effect of state funding on the consumer can be seen by comparing computer classes in several states. In the fall of 1994, the brochure for North Metro Technical Institute, in Acworth, Georgia, lists a WordPerfect course consisting of eight hours of class time for $95, a rate of $11.88/hour. At Manchester Community-Technical College, Introduction to WordPerfect 6.0 for Windows is offered in four 3-hour sessions for $158, a rate of $13.17/hour. The Des Moines Area Community College offers a 6-hour WordPerfect introduction for $56, a rate of $9.33/hour. In contrast, during the same term at the Community College of Allegheny County--South Campus, in Pennsylvania, a WordPerfect class of 36 hours cost $72, or $2/hour.
Similarly, North Metro Tech offered a course for Certified Nursing Assistant, consisting of 90 hours of study for a tuition cost of $295.00, plus $14.50 for insurance and $30.00 for the textbook, for a total of $339.50, or $3.77/hour. Des Moines Area Community College offers Nurses Aide Training in a 75-hour course for $236.25, or $3.15/hour. At CCAC--South the Nursing Assistant Certification Program consists of 168 hours and costs $199, including insurance and the textbook, which comes to $1.18/hour. In my experience, students in the Nursing Assistant Certificate Program often find the $199 tuition difficult. I believe that charging three times our current rate would result in significantly reduced enrollment. Since there is an increasing need for Certified Nursing Assistants in Pennsylvania, a state with a very large elderly population, this is a clear example of funding where both participants and the community at large benefit from state FTE reimbursement.
At the other end of this spectrum is a state like Florida, which funds 90% of the cost of noncredit courses. The result will be very low participant fees and budget restrictions on how many courses can be offered.
The basic question of who ought to be paying, and in what proportion, has different answers in different states. From my conversations, it is apparent, that, at least in the majority of states where there currently exists some form of funding, this is an issue on the minds of educators and legislators alike. What is the responsibility of the community to fund these courses, and what should be the responsibility of those enrolled in the courses? The only clear consensus seems to be that recreation and leisure courses be participant funded. The conclusions on courses that provide such things as vocational skills, academic advancement, or professional development vary from state to state, and indeed, are the source of much discussion in many arenas.