By Julie Wiessner
“There are approximately 350 Adult Basic Education (ABE) students on a waiting list because there are no funds to pay their tuition,” Northland Pioneer College Vice President for Learning and Student Services Mark Vest recently advised members of the Navajo County Community College District Governing Board.
The ABE scholarship is designed to pay tuition for students who would like to obtain a General Education Diploma (GED), and/or whose skills are not quite what they need to be to enroll in college level classes.
But when the big state budget cuts hit in 2009, the ABE scholarships took a hit.
Before funding was cut, the ABE Grant Fund was created, with the state providing $4 million and the federal government providing $12 million to fund educational expenses for those wishing to start college who needed some help.
On a local level, NPC replaced some of that cut with operational funding money until last year, but the program is still operating at a reduced level.
Vest continued, “It is not only NPC or the state, this is happening nationwide, but we believe it is having an impact on our enrollment numbers.”
NPC Director for Developmental Services Rickey Jackson noted, “We are committed to serving 600 ABE students a year. That number comes up to 774 with the college’s support.
“The state legislature reinstated funding last year. It is filtered through the Arizona Department of Education. As the economy improves, we will probably receive more initiative special class funding, like the Allied Health and retention programs.
“The college realizes that ABE students are degree seeking students of the future; we create ready made students for the college program. That is one of the reasons President (Jeanne) Swarthout committed money to continue the program during and beyond the 2009 big cut year,” Jackson continued.
“ADE provides approximately $260,000 to Navajo County and $75,000 to Apache County for the ABE scholarship at this time. The college provides approximately 10 percent to the ADE money to make it stretch further.
“The need is greater than the number of students we are able to serve.
“If you did a demographic search on the number of people in the two counties who are over 18, but without a high school diploma or a college degree, there are 15,855 in Navajo and 12,800 in Apache counties.
“The handful of people who come to the college want to improve their skills to become hirable so they are able to take care of and provide for their families. Many of these we simply can’t serve because there are no funds available for them.
“We went from about 24 students on a wait list in 2008 to more than 350 potential students on a wait list last year. We are given only so much money to serve a specific population.
“There has also been a decrease of funds from third party payers like from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Navajo County Probation Department, Navajo Nation Workforce Investment Act as well as other places that use to provide the tuition for people who wanted to improve their lives.
“The decrease in funding by the state, a downturn in the college budget and a lack of third party payers has really been the combination that has affected the waitlist numbers,” Jackson concluded.
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By Julie Wiessner