By Josh Lagunez
On Nov. 7, the Chancellor’s luncheon and interview session brought the Dallas County Community College District presidents and interim presidents together with Dr. Wright Lassiter, chancellor, to discuss with campus media concerns about financial aid, meningitis vaccines and the future of the district.
Most in attendance were finishing with their boxed lunches when Lassiter made his introduction to the meeting. “I’m sure you want to hear something regarding financial aid, but first, I want us to talk about something that has been imposed on us by legislation. It can be wrapped up in one word: meningitis,” Lassiter said.
Texas legislation was enacted earlier this year that will require all students new to a Texas institution of higher education to show proof of receiving a vaccine against meningitis prior to enrolling. Dr. Sharon Blackman, senior associate vice chancellor of Educational Affairs said, “It’s hard to predict how it will affect us enrollment-wise.”
She said some DCCCD campuses will offer the vaccination at their respective health centers and the cost for the vaccination may be as much as $145.
In reference to Financial Aid, Blackman said, “I apologize to students who had a frustrating semester.”
Administrators have been unable to fill all the positions, which resulted in the Call Center and Financial Aid offices experiencing a high volume of calls, and they have had difficulty with the technical software at the centralized center. Blackman said the number of students applying for financial aid this year has gone up by 20 percent.
Lassiter, Blackman and the college presidents also emphasized the critical need for students to be financially literate and up-to-date with their financial aid status if they are receiving assistance.
Blackman urged students to keep up with their satisfactory academic progress (SAP) as it relates to their financial aid and new federal mandates. Under new rules, students who do not meet SAP requirements (sustain a GPA of 2.0 or higher and successfully complete 67 percent of all attempted credit hours) will be placed on academic warning for the semester (warning, not probation).
According to the DCCCD website, this means students who fall below their SAP can register for an extra semester to revive their good academic standing. In fact, they will continue to qualify for financial aid and receive funds during the warning period while they improve their SAP. If good standing is not met by the end of the warning period, the student will then be placed on academic suspension for the next semester.
Interim president of Richland College Kay Eggleston warned against faltering GPAs and the apathetic approach to enrollment. “We want to end the cycle of enroll, try, withdraw,” she said. Eggleston emphasized it can be significantly challenging to raise a GPA after it hits a serious low. “Oftentimes, it takes longer than a semester, because once you’re on financial aid suspension, you’re on your own until you bring your GPA up.”
Blackman said approximately $126 million in financial aid has been awarded just in the Fall 2011 semester, more than all last year.
As the meeting’s topic switched to district-wide budget cuts, Lassiter made it clear the volley of fiscal trims experienced in recent semesters might continue. “There’s a very real possibility we’ll get a Dear John letter from Austin with more cuts,” Lassiter said. Lassiter and the other administrators present remained positive despite the foreboding outlook. President of Brookhaven College Thom Chesney said the mantra of the campuses has been “how to do more with less.”
While the tone of the meeting was downcast in light of talk concerning all the obstacles the colleges collectively face, the administrators made it clear bad situations almost always obscure the significant good that goes on at the colleges. “The 10 percent always overshadows the 90 percent,” said Chesney.
Several presidents briefly discussed how their respective colleges are amping up their skills development programs. Almost all the campuses are seeing noticeable signs of diversity growth. President Eggleston said Richland is becoming a legitimate Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander institution. Leonard Garrett, Mountain View College Vice President for Student Services, said his college is attracting more and more Hispanic students.
While people’s discouragement about the importance of higher education looms in the air as a result of the still dwindling job market- Lassiter encouraged students to endure. “By all means, stay in college, get all you can because of all the uncertainty there is,” Lassiter said.