RCCC appeals for funds

Published 8:46 am Thursday, April 17, 2014

WINDSOR – Their persistence is admirable.

Roanoke-ChowanCommunity College president Dr. Michael Elam went before the Bertie County Board of Commissioners at their April 7 meeting here and once more requested funding for not just the 2013-14 budget year, but also for 2014-15.

RCCC requested $22,000 in the current fiscal year and a consideration of $60,000 for 2014-15.

Part of the incentive in next year’s request is what Elam and the college is calling the Better Bertie Initiative.

The Initiative’s funding would provide student aid for Bertie residents who are not eligible for Federal Financial Aid Work-Study or who have an unmet need, according to the budget request submitted to the Commissioners.

The position paper went on to add that students participating in this program will be paid to work on campus or in select areas in the Bertie community with every attempt being made to match work-study assignments to the student’s academic major or course of study.

The work-study aspect would allow eligible students to work up to 15 hours per week for 32 weeks of the standard academic year, and 12 weeks of the summer term, paid at an hourly wage of $8 per hour, just above the minimum wage.

The college would also waive the administration fee, allowing all 100 percent of the funds to go directly to support Bertie residents.

These funds would also assist the cost to Bertie-area students of the High School Equivalency Test, formerly called the GED. The cost for this test is $120, or $30 per subject for the four subjects tested: Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, and Math.

Elam said a ‘think tank’ of administrators, faculty, students, and members of the business community came together on a Saturday earlier in the winter to foster this initiative.

“This initiative is really about putting Bertie residents, who also happen to be (RCCC) students to work,” Elam told the board. “And think that all of us in this community want our folks to have the skills to go to work.”

Elam spoke about RCCC’s mission, vision, and values and said Bertie is the second largest student population served by the college, with only Hertford County – where the college is located – providing more students.

Elam further cited the agreement worked out with RCCC and the Bertie County Board of Education allowing classroom use at West Bertie Elementary School for the college’s Adult Basic Skills Class.  The program would take place three nights per week in the evenings from 6-to-8 p.m. and would be free of charge with RCCC covering the tuition.

“The parent can come and drop their students off to participate in various activities, and then while their children are participating the parent can enroll in our adult literacy classes,” Elam said. “They can then begin to build their own skills and feel confident that they can help their children to learn; because as each family improves, so too does our community improve, and we will reach our goal of having a better Bertie.”

While citing that the program would only serve 5 percent of the total students enrolled for the term, Elam said it would provide work study opportunities to the college and to the county.

“A student could be assigned to the courthouse, or be assigned to some other social service and be giving back to the community at the same time they are earning wages,” Elam stated.

“We have about 215 (students) that we have processed through federal financial aid and we award almost $650,000 to those students for going to school and there is still almost a $900,000 unmet need for those students,” Elam stated. “And these are Bertie residents alone, so they still have needs that aren’t met even though we are awarding them federal dollars to go to school.”

The president went on to say that RCCC does not participate in the federal college loan program, to which Commissioner John Trent inquired as to why not. Elam cited the college’s default rate.

“It (the default rate) had gotten to a critical level,” he said. “If it gets over a particular level then we would lose our capacity to offer federal financial aid at all. In order to preserve our ability to exist and to offer financial aid we opted out of the federal loan program so we wouldn’t have that threshold to worry about.”

Elam admits getting back into the federal loan program would assist in increasing RCCC’s enrollment, but there are other things he wants the college to have in place.

“A financial literacy program needs to be in place so we can teach our students life skills that they can use anywhere.” Elam said. “Those are the kinds of skills we want to make sure our students have before we engage them in educational debt.”

Elam said a negotiation by the state of North Carolina with the private company that supervises the High School Equivalency Test has reduced it from $120 to $80.

“That’s still a major increase,” he cited, “but it’s not $120 as when we first started.  The funds we’re requesting would help supplement that.”

The president also said another idea still in the planning stage is to discuss with the county manager creating a satellite facility in a BertieCounty town or community to help provide some of the college’s services to help reduce student travel.

Commission chairman J. Wallace Perry said that before the board would consider taxing the county’s fund balance to act on the president’s 2013-14 request he would need all board members present and Perry noted for the record that Commissioner Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson was absent from that day’s (April 7) meeting.

“We’ll take this under consideration,” Perry said at the conclusion of Dr. Elam’s presentation.