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NEBRASKA COMMUNITY COLLEGE SYSTEM OVERVIEW
In 1971, the Legislature created the Nebraska Community College System by combining all junior colleges, state vocational/technical colleges, and area technical schools.By 1974, the state had been divided into six community college areas: Central, Metropolitan, Mid-Plains, Northeast, Southeast, and Western, each governed by a locally-elected eleven-member board.(See map.)
The Legislature also assigned role and mission priorities for the colleges that were further refined in 1991.Briefly, the four priorities are: 1) applied technology and occupational education, 2) transfer education, 3) public service, and 4) applied research.The colleges also have primary responsibility for foundations education.
As outlined in state statute, Nebraska’s community colleges are to be locally governed and supported with a major emphasis on occupational education.The colleges were also designed to be the most accessible postsecondary educational system in the state, offering affordable, high-quality education, geographically situated around the state to offer services to a large portion of the population.In addition, the colleges were envisioned to be the link between business and industry and a highly-skilled workforce.Working in partnership with local schools and a multitude of other entities needing advanced education and training, Nebraska’s community colleges are truly the link to the future for our local communities, regions, and state.
In 1971, the Legislature, in bringing together several different educational entities, determined that this new system should be governed by a separate agency for community colleges.However, because of the Duis amendment to Nebraska’s Constitution, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the community colleges could not be governed by the state because the state cannot control local property tax dollars.With the abolishment of the community college agency, the local boards established the Nebraska Community College Association in 1980 to replace some of the duties of the agency and to assist the local areas with statewide coordination issues, including legislative activities.
In 1990, the voters adopted a constitutional amendment to change the governance structure of higher education.Enabling legislation adopted in 1991 by the Legislature included a provision that the community colleges would be represented by “an association” of community colleges at the state level, thereby mandating membership in the association.The legislation outlines some of the coordination services provided by the association: 1) preparation of a system strategic plan, 2) coordination of the budget request for the biennium, 3) facilitation of program-needs assessment and articulation, 4) recommendation and facilitation of the appointment of representatives to committees, boards, commissions, task forces, and any other state-level bodies requesting or requiring participation from the community college system, and 5) facilitation of responses to data and information requests for the system.With the new legislative mandate, the NCCA Board of Directors undertook a monumental strategic planning process to develop the system’s first strategic plan since the 1970s.The colleges adopted the plan and began strategic budgeting.The plan has been reviewed annually and has been updated at least every three years.In 1998, the NCCA Board, in conjunction with the area governing board members and staff, created a vision statement for the system.
A unique feature of Nebraska’s community college system, unlike most other systems in the country, is that the Legislature created a funding partnership that was originally designed to have 40 percent of the funding from local property taxes, 40 percent from aid from the state, and the remaining 20 percent from tuition and other sources of revenue.However, funding began to decline almost immediately, but especially in the mid to late 1980s during an economic crisis that overshadowed the state, causing a significant increase in the property tax levies around the state.Tuition and other sources of revenue also continued to increase and eventually comprised more than 20 percent of the total funding until the late 1990s.
Although the state funding percentage dipped to a low of 32 percent in FY 1988-1989, the Legislature did appropriate some additional funds to the colleges to be used specifically for equipment upgrading, faculty training, employment training, and other related projects.These funds were appropriated in a new program called the Community College Aid Cash Fund (Program 99) and distributed through a grant process.The appropriations ranged from $300,000 to $400,000 per year, but were discontinued in FY 2002-2003.
In 1996, the Legislature sought to decrease property taxes even further by passing LB 1114 which gradually phased in levy reductions for various political subdivisions.
Then, in 1997, the Legislature reaffirmed its commitment to community college education and set about to increase state funding to the colleges, while at the same time, offering property tax relief for taxpayers.A new program with a new distribution formula was created, the Property Tax Relief and Equalization Program (Program 152), that would help to equalize the burden on property tax payers around the state, by providing additional state aid to those colleges that cannot raise 40 percent of their budgets through property tax levies, under newly imposed levy limits.This new formula in Program 152 provides almost dollar-for-dollar tax relief and works in tandem with the enrollment-driven distribution formula in the original Program 151.
In 1999, the state was reaping the benefits of a growing economy and with a budget surplus, the Legislature was able to appropriate additional state dollars to offset the levy reductions.Because of the unique features of the formula in Program 152, the senators gave the community colleges an additional $30 million dollars for FY 1999-2000 and again in FY 2000-2001.The colleges were then able to decrease the total statewide average levy (operations and capital levies) from 7.496 cents per $100 to 3.755 cents per $100 in FY 1999-2000 and were able to further reduce the average statewide levy to 3.311 cents in FY 2000-2001.Unfortunately, in late 2000, state revenues began to decline significantly, so much so that the Legislature realized that it could no longer provide property tax relief through the community colleges.Thus, the levies have increased each year to 7.5964 cents per $100 in FY 2005-2006.
With the passage of LB 342 by the Legislature in 2007, there is no longer an aspect in the community college formula for full funding.The Local Effort Rate (LER) or local tax levy will change depending on the amount of money appropriated by the Legislature.The basis of the new formula is Needs minus Resources equals state aid.The needs of the community colleges are based on the most recent years expenditures plus 3% automatic growth and any additional growth as experienced by the colleges in growth of the previous three years average growth in REU’s.The LER will also be dependent each year on valuations change and the amount of tuition and fees the colleges collect.
The following chart illustrates the interdependence of each of the three funding sources upon the other.As can be clearly seen, as state aid increases, property taxes decrease.
One of the main features of the new formula is an equalization of the property tax levy across the state as the colleges will only be allowed to vary from the established LER by 20% above or 20% below the LER.This will give the local boards some flexibility in how much property tax to levy.This formula will also allow each of the colleges to have access to the resources needed to operate their college.The resources will be made up of property taxes levied, tuition and fees collected, and state aid appropriated.If one of the sources falls short of expectations, there will still be the ability to get extra resources from the other sources.The LER will always be set as a direct result of the amount of state aid appropriated by the Legislature.
Visionary leaders in the Legislature and, especially in the communities across the state, began with a strong foundation to build a vibrant, growing, postsecondary education system that has effectively made the transition into the new century.The original partnership established among the state, local citizens, and students, is a partnership that works well in Nebraska.This ideal mix of support, especially financial, provides the colleges with a very stable source of funding that will allow the system to effectively plan for the future.
Community colleges were designed to be open-access institutions and have long been viewed as the last resort for a good share of the population.However, the colleges are also the first choice for an even greater share of the population today.The reasons individuals enroll as students are as profuse as the burgeoning enrollment numbers.These reasons include lower tuition rates; small class size; high-quality programs in a variety of career fields; excellent counseling and other student services; dedicated faculty and staff; a safe, healthy learning environment; flexible class schedules with numerous classes offered in the evenings and on weekends; a multitude of learning options ranging from the traditional classroom to distance learning and on-line computer courses; transferability of credits; 13 campus locations and a number of off-campus sites interspersed throughout the state, making it very convenient for the student to attend college; numerous financial aid and scholarship options; and even on-site child care services at several campus locations.
The community colleges also offer students a choice between the traditional college campus experience by offering campus housing at all community colleges.Besides offering the on-campus residential experience, all of the community college campuses offer a wide range of student activities and organizations, including Phi Theta Kappa, the two-year scholastic honorary society. Some of the campuses offer competitive and intra-mural sports, instrumental and vocal music and other opportunities similar to the four-year colleges and universities.Contrary to recent newspaper articles regarding the differences between the two-year and four-year college experience, the only real difference is size of the institution.Every student at a community college in Nebraska may make the same life-choices that their counterparts at a four-year college or university.Every community college student has the opportunity to participate in the non-academic facets of college life gaining the same leadership skills.While many choose to experience college life to the fullest, many students choose to concentrate on their studies because of work and family obligations.
Without reasonable access, many students would not be able to attend college.The community colleges recognized this fact early on and have worked very hard over the years to reach out to those traditionally under-served by other sectors of postsecondary education. Economically and/or socially disadvantaged, minorities, and the physically disabled have all found a comfortable place at a community college.This outreach has been very successful as can be seen in the statewide enrollment numbers illustrated on these graphs.It is interesting to note that the FTE growth has been fairly steady over the years, with the one exception of the mid 1980s just before Nebraska’s entry into the recession.Headcount enrollment has also grown steadily, but with more dramatic surges, especially in the late 1980s when Nebraska was in the full throws of the recession.Then, as the economy improved, headcount enrollments took a significant drop in the mid 1990s, but began to increase in the late 1990s.Although headcount decreased during this period, more students opted to go to college (or stay in college) on a full-time basis, rather than drop out or remain part-time.
This growth reaffirms that Nebraskans place a high value on the importance of education and that the community colleges offer an outstanding education for the investment.In contrast, enrollments at both the University of Nebraska and the State Colleges, have steadily decreased.According to an annual report issued by the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, enrollment at the University of Nebraska has decreased 9.99 percent from the fall of 1992 through the fall of 2002. During this same ten-year period, the State College enrollment decreased 10.13 percent, while the community college fall enrollment increased 26.35 percent. It is important to note that these figures represent snapshot data collected for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System based upon fall enrollments at the various institutions.These figures do not represent the actual total full-time enrollments as audited for the community colleges for the entire fiscal year.
1 A Factual Look at Higher Education in Nebraska, November 2003 draft; Compiled by the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education
The community colleges anticipate continued growth in the next few years, especially with the unstable economy in our country today.Without sufficient funding from both the state and local property tax collections, the colleges will be unable to meet this increased demand.
Role and Mission:
The Legislature established four instructional and service priorities.(See §85-962.)
- Applied technology and occupational education and, when necessary, foundations education;
- Transfer education, including general academic transfer programs, or applied technology and occupational programs which may be applicable to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree program and, when necessary, foundations education;
- Public service, particularly adult continuing education for occupations and professions, economic and community development focused on customized occupational assessment and job training programs for business and communities, and avocational and personal development courses;
- Applied research.(Applied research activities of the community college areas shall be directly related to the enhancement of the instructional programs, student achievement, institutional effectiveness, public service activities, and to the professional development of the faculty.§85-960.01)
The community colleges are well-positioned to serve the needs of the state because of their traditional focus on applied technology, vocational, and occupational education and training.The next graph illustrates the ratio of academic transfer to applied technology enrollments.It is obvious that Nebraskans attending community colleges are far more interested in gaining employable skills that will serve them well into the future, than they are in obtaining advanced degrees at four-year institutions.Even those with advanced degrees are coming to the community colleges in greater numbers to gain new technical skills.
In the past, some legislators may have worried that the community colleges would shift their focus away from the more expensive vocational programs if academic transfer options were allowed at multiple campuses.However, that fear has been unfounded because the ratio of applied technology and occupational education still represents a significant percentage of the total enrollments.The statewide enrollment average for FY 2006-2007 is 78.3 percent in applied technology and 21.7 percent in academic transfer.This wide variance has been very consistent over the past nineteen years.
Today, there are almost as many learning options as there are students.Community college leaders learned a long time ago that in order to meet the needs of their constituents, innovative methods of delivery of education needed to be developed if students were going to be able to take advantage of college services.The typical community college student works part-time, if not full-time, has family obligations, and is generally place-bound.Evening and weekend classes are especially attractive to this demographic and now, with the advent of on-line courses, access to higher education is even greater because students can (and often do) log-on in the late evening or early morning hours when the rest of the household is asleep.
For the more traditional learner, there are 13 campus locations and over 280 off-campus sites interspersed throughout state, making it very convenient for the student to attend college.
Central Community College offers both traditional scheduling and individualized learning programs in which students can enter or exit at any time.All of the colleges are involved in distance education through the NEB*SAT network which enables the institutions to bring in college-level courses offered by other institutions within the state, in the country, or from other countries around the world.In addition to distance learning classrooms located throughout the state, Nebraska’s community colleges are also involved in on-line learning through the Internet.To be truly responsive to the needs of the citizens and communities within the state, community colleges need to be able to provide courses when and where students will be able to participate in order to maintain a high level of accessibility.
In order to provide more educational opportunities, especially in the rural areas of the state, the colleges have collaborated to establish a number of joint programs including the following:
- Central, Mid-Plains, and Western offer the Health Information Management Systems program.
- Central and Mid-Plains offer the Paralegal program.
- Central and Southeast offer the Fire Training program.
- Metropolitan and Central offer the Respiratory Care Technology program with local clinical coordination
- Metropolitan and Central have a Library Collection Sharing Project
- Metropolitan and Little Priest Tribal College have a joint grant for the Comparison of the Mayan and Winnebago Cultures
- Mid-Plains and Southeast offer a Surgical Technology program.
- Southeast and Mid-Plains offer a Radiology Technology program.
- Navy -Tech Prep - Electronics:The colleges have also formed a partnership with the United States Navy to offer this program to students who wish to enter the Navy and also earn a degree in electronics.
The Council of Instructional Officers continues to review various program offerings and is investigating the possibilities of expanding joint program offerings in an effort to provide more learning opportunities across the state in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
One measure of student success is the completion rate and the job placement rate.However, “completion” for a community college student doesn’t always mean obtaining a degree.Many students come to the community college to learn new skills that will enhance earning potential and position within their current companies, while others learn job-specific skills and then enter the workforce without actually completing a degree program.For the community colleges, the definition of a completer means that the student has achieved his/her educational goals which may or may not include receiving a degree.Individuals pursuing a four-year degree are also considered completers.
Of the 5,105 completers, 1,195 did not respond to the survey, 707 were unavailable for employment (many going on to earn a bachelor’s degree or family obligations), leaving a total of 3,569 available for placement.Of those available, 3,210 (92.08 percent) were placed in the state, 278 (7.97 percent) out of state.Of those placed in Nebraska, 2,561 (73.47 percent) were placed in the community college area where they attended.(See Appendix C-3 for more details.)
Other tools to measure success are student exit surveys that consistently rank the colleges very high for the quality of the education received and the overall college experience.Without top-quality faculty and staff, the community colleges would not be able to serve the students and other college constituents, and, without good faculty, the quality of the education received would suffer and enrollments would eventually decline.
The colleges also survey employers for customer satisfaction.These surveys also indicate that the community colleges are doing an outstanding job of meeting the needs of the business community as well.
Over the years, some have argued that the colleges (as well as the University, State Colleges, K-12 sector, and other entities) could be more efficient and could then have more money for salary increases and other college expenses.Previously, the community college system documented an extensive list of efficiency measures that resulted in significant cost savings over the past several years.Some of these early measures included closing two campuses, restructuring college administration and operations, increasing the number of partnerships with business and industry, eliminating several programs that experienced low enrollments, maximizing the use of college facilities by sharing with other entities, and numerous other items.
Another important aspect of efficiency is related to duplication of programs and services.The colleges have worked very diligently over the past several years to eliminate as much duplication as possible, while maintaining necessary programs and service within their own service areas.The colleges routinely monitor programs and courses and have eliminated, combined, or in some cases, discontinued those not meeting certain threshold requirements until demand increased.The colleges continue to investigate other joint activities in order to improve services while lowering the cost to provide those services.