It’s been almost too good to be true— hundreds of Botetourt high school students have been able to head off to college with a collection of college credits already in hand.
That’s meant considerable savings for those students, and even shorter college stays for many who graduated in as few as three years.
Others have been able to get industry credentials thanks to the college credits.
Those college credits, earned with dual enrollment (DE) courses offered through Virginia Western and Dabney Lancaster Community Colleges have been accumulated at essentially no cost to the students or their parents because the community colleges reimbursed the school division for the cost.
That won’t be the case with the 2017-18 school year. Instead, students will have to pay the full community college tuition for those DE credits.
The school division had already set policy in the fall that students would be responsible for any costs not reimbursed by the community colleges. That was the result of a change in reimbursement policies by the community colleges this school year.
Over the past two years, the reimbursement rate went from 100 percent, to 97 percent to 85 percent. That 85 percent caught the school division off guard when the administration learned of the change after approving the current school budget— it cost the school division about $138,000.
The school division may have expected reimbursement rates to fall some more, but dropping the reimbursement completely was a surprise, Superintendent John Busher told the School Board at its regular February meeting last Thursday.
Busher said the school division learned of the change when VWCC officials came to Fincastle in January. By January 28, VWCC and the school division had sent letters to the parents of current students in the Regional Academy at VWCC and the STEM-H programs to let them know of the change.
“They (parents) are really feeling the pain,” Busher said of the change.
Most dual enrollment courses are three credit hours, and the cost for offering those credits varies as to whether the student takes the course on the community college campus ($169.74/credit hour this year), at the Regional Academy at VWCC ($42.44/credit hour) or in one of the secondary schools ($25.46/credit hour), Director of Administration and Finance James Lyons told the School Board during a work session last summer when the division started considering making the policy change.
So this year, a three-credit course could vary from $509.22 to $76.38, depending on where it’s offered. But students didn’t have to pay for those courses.
Adopting the school division’s policy change on having students pick up any non-reimbursed cost was to keep dual enrollment classes “cost neutral” for the school division.
Busher said he talked with Del. Terry Austin about the reimbursement change with the hope the General Assembly may make some adjustments.
“This is bothering a lot of people” in other school divisions Busher told the School Board.
Director of Instruction Dr. Janet Womack said in a follow up email that VWCC will continue to offer a reduced rate for DE courses taught in Botetourt schools— BTEC, Greenfield Education and Training Center, James River and Lord Botetourt High Schools.
“We do not have the final tuition rate, but have heard that there will be an increase. We expect the final rate to be announced in June,” Womack said.
A February 1 letter from VWCC Regional Academy and Outreach Career Services Coordinator Terry Drumheller to parents of students in the Regional Academy at VWCC said the change was the result of a state audit, and the reduced tuition rate was not in-line with statewide policy.
Courses taught at Dabney Lancaster are at a reduced tuition rate as well, Womack said, however, the rate is not always consistent among the community colleges.
There’s another challenge involved, too, Womack told the board. She said the administration is evaluating the DE courses being offered because what students take can impact their financial aid “down the road.”
She said included impacts on year three and four engineering and health students at the Regional Academy at VWCC. She said if the school division could offer an additional year in Botetourt the students would be able to attend at the reduced rate. That would require teachers with master’s degrees and endorsements.
There’s also the cost of textbooks. They are free in the county secondary schools because they are generally used for multiple years. The school division also offers free transportation to the regional schools and community colleges. The school division added a bus this year for transportation to Virginia Western Community College and the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School.
School Board members didn’t have much to say about the change, other than to note even with the higher cost for college credit courses, they are “still a good bargain.”