Western Pa.'s community colleges thinking outside their counties
In an era of falling enrollments, tightening budgets and rising costs, some county-sponsored community colleges depend on students from other counties — even other states — to help balance budgets, benefiting from a practice used by state-related schools, such as the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State, which court higher-paying, out-of-state students.
Community colleges officials said it's not about the money. Instead, they're providing an education to those in areas not served by community colleges, they said. But they also acknowledge nonresident students can add to the bottom line in big ways.
Out-of-county students make up a third of the student body at Butler County Community College but bring in more tuition than do in-county students, who outnumber them.
Butler collected more than $5.7 million in out-of-county and out-of state tuition for 2011-12, compared with $5.4 million for in-county tuition. Out-of-county students pay almost twice the $114 per-credit rate of in-county students, and out-of-state students pay nearly triple.
Westmoreland County benefits from facilities in Greene, Indiana and Fayette counties. For 2011-12, nonresident students, who make up 34 percent of the student body, paid 63 percent of the tuition.
“We find ourselves in a position that we've become somewhat dependent on our out-of-county revenue. If it were to diminish significantly or go away, it would be a pretty big hit in terms of our budget,” said Daniel Obara, president of Westmoreland County Community College.
Nonresident students said they have no choice but to pay higher fees, which generally are double what county residents pay, because educational choices in their home counties are scarce.
“I don't think it's fair I have to pay double,” said Bethany Fleming, 19, of Kittanning in her second year of Butler's nursing program. “I have to pay more, and I have to drive about 45 minutes to get here.”
Armstrong County does not have a community college.
The Community College of Allegheny County relies less on out-of-county students. The school's 27,694 students living in Allegheny County paid $40.3 million in tuition for 2011-12; its 4,804 out-of-county students paid about 10 percent of that.
“If there are any commitments to out-of-county residents, it's to serve underserved populations,” President Alex Johnson said. “Our primary responsibility is to the citizens of Allegheny County.”
Butler County Community College is looking to increase its lucrative numbers when it opens an education center in Brockway for the fall 2013 semester, potentially doubling the number of served there to nearly 100. BCCC also has facilities in Cranberry; New Castle, Lawrence County; Hermitage, Mercer County, and has about 50 students at the Jefferson-Dubois Area Vocational Technical School in Brockway.
“Budgetarily, it has helped us,” said James A. Hrabosky, vice president of finance and administration for the college. “The amount of revenue coming from these sites exceeds the cost.”
Out-of-county tuition has helped the school build a $12.8 million surplus, causing Butler County commissioners to reduce the county subsidy by $300,000.
To boost interest in the new Brockway site, Hrabosky said, the college has done advertising, reached out to high schools and set up an advisory board of community leaders.
The college is conducting a survey to determine whether to add housing to its main campus for students coming from other counties.
Greene County approached Westmoreland in 1999 about setting up a campus center, Obara said, and Indiana did the same the next year.
Both counties provide a stipend to WCCC so that their students pay the in-county rate. The college also set up a center in Fayette County in 2004, but students there pay the out-of county rate.
“There are many counties that simply don't have a large enough population to sustain a community college,” Obara said. “Neighboring community colleges can provide that, and we've been encouraged to do that.”
Of the 219,000 credit students enrolled in the 14 community colleges across Pennsylvania for the 2011-12 school year, 74.5 percent were residents of the sponsoring county, another 23.7 percent were out-of-county and 1.8 percent were from out of state, according to the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pa. agency re-examines Supreme Court justice’s emails
- Pennsylvania senator’s statewide solution to regulate taxi, ride services gains steam
- Audit: Work of adviser in Pa. Dept. of Education hard to pin down
- Pennsylvania university enrollments continue to decline
- Lottery wants volunteer witnesses from Western Pennsylvania
- Penn State coin toss will omit alumnus linked to Sandusky’s charity
- Nearly all Pa. legislators accept pay during state budget gridlock
- Civil rights leader, subject of Kane’s alleged leak, Whyatt Mondesire dies at 65
- Pennsylvania’s new online voter registration draws tens of thousands