Dianne G. Van Hook: Solving equation of college affordability

zSpace Sales Director David Cisneros, second from left, demonstrates 3D, Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality programs on display inside the zSpace mobile classroom which was parked at the Honor Grove on the College of the Canyons, Valencia campus in March. Dan Watson/The Signal

Today’s college students face a number of obstacles to reaching their full academic potential. Some challenges, like math anxiety and fear of public speaking, seem daunting, but can be mastered with extra help from tutors or friends.

But a more significant barrier stands in the way. And it’s far more difficult to overcome than algebra, or delivering a speech to classmates.

It’s finances.

The expense of college often stands as an insurmountable obstacle to students’ academic achievement. Rising college costs have outstripped inflation for decades, now forcing many students to either take on high levels of debt or forego higher education altogether.

Enrollment fees represent just a small part of the equation when calculating the expense of education.  Tuition at College of the Canyons is just $46 per unit, the same rate charged at all 113 California community colleges, and the lowest community college enrollment fee in the nation.

The state’s Board of Governors Fee Waiver Program covers tuition for students who can’t afford the $46 per unit, but there is still a gap between what they receive and what they need to succeed.

Other significant expenses include textbooks and classroom supplies, parking permits and fees that provide services such as those found at the Student Health Center.

At College of the Canyons, we have launched a number of initiatives designed to bridge that gap and ensure financial need does not prevent students from achieving their full potential.

First-Year Promise

Our newest and most exciting endeavor is the First-Year Promise (FYP) program funded by a $750,000 grant from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. Eligible first-time, full-time students at College of the Canyons who graduate high school in 2017 will pay no fees when they enroll for the 2017-18 academic year as part of First-Year Promise.

Participating students will also receive a $100 voucher per semester that can be applied toward other supplies and instructional materials. Free computer lab printing services will also be provided by the college.

Open Educational Resources

The cost of textbooks also hinders student success. Our annual student survey revealed that 75 percent of students cite textbooks as a top barrier to achieving educational goals.

One in three said they couldn’t afford to buy textbooks for their classes.  Remember struggling through a class where you had the book?  Imagine trying to keep up without one!

We are expanding the use of Open Educational Resources, teaching and learning materials that have been released in the public domain or under an intellectual property license, as a no-cost alternative to traditional textbooks.

Students can access these learning resources online or purchase printed editions for a small fee that just covers the cost of the copies. The use of Open Educational Resources materials saves our students an estimated $3 million each year.

Helping Students Get Ahead

Taking fewer classes is another effective method for lowering costs. Students who are not majoring in fields related to science, technology, engineering or math can choose Math 75. This class replaces a two-course sequence of basic and intermediate algebra and puts students into college-level coursework faster.

Similarly, English 96 replaces a two-course sequence with just one course that prepares students for transfer-level curriculum.

Thanks to these accelerated courses, students have saved more than 1.6 million hours of remedial instruction and more than $2.3 million in tuition costs for remedial courses that are not applicable toward earning associate degrees.

Changes to our assessment and placement processes ensure students begin with the English and math classes that best match their academic ability and bypass unnecessary remedial courses.

Now, 71 percent of students avoid remedial classes, moving directly into transfer-level statistics, a rate that is four to five times higher than neighboring community colleges.

We expect this streamlined approach to save students 250,000 hours of instruction and $700,000 in tuition costs per year.

As we knock down financial barriers and help students access higher education, we know we are giving them the confidence to reach their full academic potential – and  even conquer their fears about algebra and public speaking.


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