Lifelong Learning: Its Rewards And Costs

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Don Crowley
District #1 Governor, Gila Community College

In addition to providing the path to a college education for the young, another main objective for community colleges is lifelong learning opportunities for all segments of the population. Indeed, lifelong learning is one of my personal passions.

The campuses of Gila Community College provide a wide variety of classes to meet the desires and needs of lifelong learners, and one of the unique services provided by Eastern Arizona College is to offer free tuition to people 55 years of age and older -- something not done by any other Arizona community colleges, according to my research.

As shown in the table below, the free-tuition-for-seniors program consumed nearly 80% of our scholarship money last year. Unlike other scholarships, that is not a cash outlay, but represents tuitions not paid -- a non-cash item -- and the added attendance enhances the college's "full-time equivalent" enrollment and therefore, state funding -- an important rationale for the service. It not only consumes the bulk of the scholarship funding, but also has consistently exceeded the amount budgeted:

Scholarship Budget & Spending

Budgeted Actually Spent Percent Budgeted

FY2007-2008 FY2006-2007 Expended FY2006-2007

Presidential/

Dean $52,200 $24,341 9.4% $49,800

Senior Citizen $225,000 $202,244 78.3% $75,640

Departmental $35,000 $30,015 11.6% $12,740

Achievement $4,000 $1,614 0.6% $3,640

Total Budgeted/

Spent $316,200 $258,214 100.0% $141,820

About half of the senior scholarship funding goes to elders enrolling in the Wellness Centers at Payson and Globe, while the remainder is spread among a wide variety of other classes.

One of the issues that members of the Gila Community College board of governors has grappled with is how to better balance the flow of financial aid, so that those who need it, get it. Recognizing those needs, a number of seniors have volunteered to pay tuition, but voluntary tuition payments have not been permitted by EAC.

Clearly, the financial needs of people other than seniors would appear to be substantially greater than the approximately 20% these other groups received last year. I, for one, would like to see significantly more funding available for "Departmental" and "Achievement" scholarships.

The best idea to come forth yet -- and one that appears to have the full support of the five-member Gila Community College board -- is to encourage, and make it easy for, willing and interested seniors to donate some or all of their tuition savings to the separate charitable foundations that have been established to serve higher education needs in Payson and Globe. In Payson, there is the Gila Foundation for Higher Education and in Globe, the Pinal Mountain Foundation for Higher Education, both of which should be well-positioned to recycle such funds to areas of need.

To date, however, this idea has yet to become the robust, functioning program it should be, probably because it requires the time-commitment and coordination of four different groups:

The college administration, providing the information, marketing, mailers, etc., to make it easy for donors to respond;

The two foundations, setting up liaisons with the college to facilitate the distribution of funds from donors to those in needs; and,

Those seniors, who may be inclined to take part, but need to know how.

The College Administration: To some degree, implementation of this effort has been held back by personnel turnover during the past six months. However, that is now largely behind us, with new Dean Pamela Butterfield settling in at the Payson campus.

The Foundations: To varying degrees, the respective foundations have been active in their own fund-raising efforts, and we at the college and on the college board need to do a better job of working with them and making them aware of this "scholarship recycling" program.

Senior Scholarship Recipients: We need to very clearly alert the seniors themselves to the availability of this donation option and make it easy for them to use.

Enough excuses. Now the hard part: Let's get this program going!

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