WSCC readies new programs for 2014

MARIETTA – Washington State Community College will begin two new programs next year, and may also see an increase in state funding.

During the college board of trustees meeting Monday, the board unanimously approved the purchase of equipment for a welding program, heard the description of a more integrated transfer program with Ohio University and received an update on the new state funding model for community colleges.

The college will spend $93,306 along with a $50,000 grant from the Bernard McDonough Foundation and $89,300 from the Governor’s Office of Appalachia to build and equip an eight-station welding laboratory where the ag lab is now located.

“We hope to begin (the program) in the fall of 2014,” college President Bradley Ebersole said. “This is a significant upgrade for this college and really a nice opportunity to meet the workforce needs of this community.”

As exploration of the Marcellus and Utica shale, thanks to the advent of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, ramps up, the need for welders to fabricate pipelines and other materials continues to grow, Ebersole said.

Representatives from Ohio University spoke to the board about the Strategic Transfer Education Plan (S.T.E.P.), which would strengthen the transfer agreements between the school by giving Washington State students who have completed at least 30 credit hours provisional admission to the university.

That would come with a student ID, the ability to attend OU sporting events as a student and utilize the library, receive transfer advising at Washington State and the ability to finalize housing and financial aid ahead of more traditional transfer students.

“So our grads really do get a leg up,” Trustee John Lehman said.

Trustee Holly Dexter noted some students may be able to earn the 30 credit hours while still in high school thanks to post-secondary enrollment option and dual enrollment opportunities.

The transfer protocols should give students confidence in setting up a path to a four-year degree from OU while saving money by starting close to home at Washington State, said Veronica Hiner, community partnerships manager at OU.

“Students need to know that the coursework they’re taking here is just as valid,” she said.

Ebersole said Washington State officials are discussing the possibility of offering upper-level OU courses on campus.

Ebersole and Chief Financial Officer Jess Raines told the board they were cautiously optimistic about the latest projection from the new state funding formula for community colleges.

“Although this is given to us on the auspices that we can’t rely on it, we can’t plan on it and we can’t budget on it … we are up nearly 9 percent,” Raines said.

That would mean an additional $460,000 from the state through a formula based entirely on performance – course completion, degree attainment – rather than enrollment, the major factor in the previous system. But without the precise formulas used to calculate the amount, Raines cannot verify the numbers.

The news was not all good at the meeting, as Raines told the board insurance was going to go up 18.8 percent as the college transitioned to Anthem from current carrier UnitedHealthcare. Based on claims history, the school would have seen a 38.3 percent jump if it stayed with United, later revised to about 32 percent.

The lower rate from Anthem is due in part to a change in coverage that will mean higher deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses for employees, as well as an increase in what the college pays.