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Officials working on a plan that would keep tuition down



Published: Sat, October 21, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Tuition will nearly double in the fall of 2007.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- It appears tuition will be going up for Lawrence County residents attending Butler County Community College.

But some Lawrence County officials say they are working on a plan to keep the tuition costs down as well as provide economic stimulus for New Castle.

Lawrence County Commissioner Ed Fosnaught met with BCCC officials last week to talk about averting the tuition increase.

William O'Brien, vice president of continuing education and off-campus centers for the college, said increasing numbers of students in Lawrence County and a change in the state funding formula for community colleges have made the tuition increase necessary.

The college informed students just over a week ago by letter that tuition fees in Lawrence County would be increasing from 83 per credit to 146 per credit beginning the fall 2007 semester.

Similar changes have already gone into effect at BCCC campuses in Mercer, Clarion and Armstrong counties, O'Brien said.

Lawrence County has been one of the most successful off-site campuses, with the number of students growing 10 percent each year for the past seven years, he said.

He credits much of the success to being able to offer daytime courses at the Lawrence County Learning Center. Previously, BCCC could offer only night courses at the Lawrence County Area Vocational/Technical School and in area high schools.

The Learning Center, which opened in the mid-1990s, offers free space to colleges in exchange for lower tuition rates for Lawrence County residents.

New classroom

Arch Zarone, Learning Center director, said they added a new classroom this fall to the Columbus Innerbelt site to help meet the college's needs. There are now 14 classrooms in the building, which are used day and night by colleges including BCCC.

O'Brien said BCCC formed a committee to look for a new location in the county where all courses could be consolidated. Although many classes are held at the Learning Center, some are still offered at area high schools at night, he said.

The college has about 500 Lawrence County students and offers about 50 classes in Lawrence County each semester.

The planned tuition increase results from a change in state funding, O'Brien said.

The state previously contributed one-third of the cost for every student enrolled in community college. The student also paid one-third. If the students were living and attending classes in Butler County, another third would be paid by that county, he said.

The state is now sending a lump sum allocation to community colleges. O'Brien said the new funding will be based on enrollment figures from 2004-05. Any growth beyond those two years is not accounted for, he said.

New location

Fosnaught says he wants the county to assist Butler County Community College in finding a new location in downtown New Castle. He's working on a plan, which he hopes to have to college officials sometime in November.

"The goal is to keep the tuition down for Lawrence County students. If we don't do that, there is no advantage," he said.

O'Brien said his committee hopes to have made its decision about finding a central location for its courses in Lawrence County sometime in the spring semester.

O'Brien noted that they hope to keep a relationship with the Lawrence County Learning Center and the Vo-Tech.

"They make it easier for community colleges to offer courses. Lawrence County Learning Center has really helped us grow over there. Those two relationships will continue, no matter what we do," he said.

cioffi@vindy.com




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