State Community Colleges Doing More With Less, OCCC president says

By Billie Rodely

Published 10-Mar-2011

It was an open and shut case at the most recent meeting of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. The 9 a.m. Thursday (March 10) meeting started on time and the Regents voted to go into Executive Session at about 9:10 a.m.

The meeting re-opened at 11:15 a.m., but only after college presidents and others scheduled to appear before the regents gathered in the outer office and chatted among themselves for two hours.

In the only substantive public business of the morning session, Oklahoma Two-Year Colleges Chairman Dr. Paul Sechrist, the president of Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC), said the state’s Community Colleges are going to have to more aggressively pursue funding beyond state appropriations.

“We’ve done a lot with so little for so long, there are some people who think we can do just about everything with nothing,” Dr. Sechrist said.

With the help of a power point presentation, Dr. Sechrist told the Regents what has already been widely reported. The affordability of launching a degree program is attracting increasing numbers of true freshmen to Community Colleges and lay-offs, unemployment and underemployment are attracting more degreed adults to train for career changes or pursue a second degree.

Dr. Sechrist, named Chair of the Board of Trustees of the College Board last fall, told regents Community Colleges across the country are seeing enrollment growth as well as credit hour growth.  The College Board is a membership association of more than 5,900 educational institutions in the nation.

From FY 2000 to 2010, research institutions in Oklahoma saw an 11% growth in enrollment, according to Sechrist’s report. Oklahoma’s Regional Institutions experienced 7% growth for the same period. Oklahoma Community Colleges’ enrollment growth was 34% in the past decade.

At the same time, Community College funding from State Appropriations fell by 8.6% while appropriations for Regional Institutions rose 18% and Comprehensive Institutions rose 20.1%. These percentages are results after funding for Full Time Employees (FTE) are included in the appropriated funds.

In his presentation, Dr. Sechrist also reported on student success, retention and remediation at Community Colleges.

“Funding to keep up with the tremendous growth occurring in Oklahoma’s community colleges continues to be a challenge,” Sechrist said.

“We know we have to become more aggressive and writing more grants and seeking more outside funding to help us deal with this dramatic increase in enrollment.”

According to a “Grantsmanship” report from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, “Oklahoma’s 25 College and Universities have an active and productive Grantsmanship program which contributes to the institutions funding outside the appropriations process.

“In 2010, our institutions reported the receipt of $506.6 million in competitive grants for program development and research.”

Such science and research grants, Sechrist said, have traditionally gone to four-year and comprehensive institutions of higher education. Dr. Sechrist told the regents meeting Thursday some of those funding organizations, including the National Science Foundation, are looking at community colleges which were not previously part of the mix.

As to priorities for the future in Oklahoma’s community colleges, Sechrist’s report indicated three are critical: Improved student success rates; Adequate funding to support enrollment growth and success strategies; Limited expansion of applied baccalaureate programs.

Note: Rodely writes for CapitolBeatOK and The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper. A long-time radio, television and print journalist, she is a member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.