Jan 012016

By Linda Kor
The year 2016 should prove to be an exciting one for Northland Pioneer College. The college is looking to expand its offerings, continue to assist students in making college affordable and fill a void due to retirements with staff that will help to expand the potential of Navajo County’s only college campuses.
In the forefront of thought for NPC President Jeanne Swarthout is legislation under consideration by lawmakers regarding the expenditure limit.
According to Dr. Swarthout, the current formula used for calculating expenditure limitations for Arizona community colleges was introduced in 1980 to restrict the spending of money collected from property taxes within each county. This restriction is based on the estimated full time student equivalent (FTSE) for the coming year. That formula has not changed over the years despite the fact that the cost for providing classroom services and technology has gone up substantially.
While other community colleges in the state are facing a breach of their expenditure limit in the coming year, NPC has managed to operate conservatively and is not in danger of exceeding its capacity for another seven to eight years.
If lawmakers determine that the formula is in fact archaic and decide to lessen the restrictions on the use of funds, Swarthout hopes to introduce new offerings at each of the campuses.
“I would love to expand our courses such as archeology, geography and perhaps literature for our older population. I would also like to put some thought into expanding our arts programs; not so much theater, because we do have that in place at the Snowflake campus, but perhaps smaller events in more areas. I have many ideas, but they all hinge on the decision made at the state,” Swarthout stressed.
One program already in motion that NPC will be starting in the fall will allow high school students to take college courses via video conferencing from their high school campuses during school hours. For the first year, 10 area high schools will be participating in the program, with two more schools to be added each year for a total of 16. Included in the first 10 will be Winslow, Joseph City, Holbrook and Snowflake high schools. The courses will be taught by NPC instructors while the students are overseen in the classroom by an aide.
NPC serves some of the poorest communities in Arizona and the nation, and so will continue with its efforts to reach out to students to enroll in college outside of high school and make it affordable. These offerings include the Finish Line scholarship, which waives tuition costs for up to 12 credits needed to complete an associate’s degree, a 50 percent tuition discount on all Adult Basic Education (ABE) classes taken through The Learning Cornerstone and a 50 percent discount on all summer course offerings.
Students 14 and older with a 3.0 grade point average are eligible to enroll at the college, and with the College Bound scholarship, eligible students can have the cost of tuition waived for up to 28 general education credits.
“It’s a substantial savings for students and parents. We have it figured out that if students plan it right, they can begin attending as a (high school) junior and continue through their senior year, they only have to pay for seven of their general education requirement courses,” she said. At current tuition prices, that would be $476, plus media and book fees.
With the additional services to off-campus locations, the one concern of college officials is the availability of Internet bandwidth. “Every time we find more bandwidth it gets eaten up in a year. So that’s a constant endeavor but I think we can manage it,” stated Swarthout.
The college is also pushing forward with its IBEST (Arizona Department of Education Integrated Basic Education Skills Training) program, which is currently allowing 15 NPC students to complete their high school equivalency diploma while learning construction trades skills to build an energy-efficient home for a low-income family.
“We’re very excited about this program and what it offers. I was out at the site and spoke with some of the students, and they are very grateful for the opportunity. We expect the house to be completed in June, and we’re working on obtaining more property in the community so that we can continue with the program,” she noted.
The college is also dealing with an unanticipated high volume of retiring employees, leaving a shortage of five administrators and five faculty members, but Swarthout says that the approach being taken by the college is to be patient and take careful consideration to filling the vacancies. “We’re dealing with a pretty big wave of retirements. It’s had its challenges, but in the long run I feel it will bring in new talent that will also bring new ideas and a new approach to looking at operations. I see it as a very positive opportunity,” she said.
Swarthout is also looking at more opportunities to partner with Navajo County, schools and other local entities to broaden the opportunities for residents in the county and to continue to make post-secondary education attainable.