Dennis Brown, Lee College president
Earning a college degree ranks toward the top of the list of one’s personal accomplishments. It is a major milestone, and has impact on potential job income, career satisfaction, quality of life, and self-esteem. Staying the course, or operationally defined here as making steady progress toward the completion of a college degree, is essential if one is to achieve the above milestone. There are many roadblocks that can and do stand in the way of students’ completion of their programs of study. We know that students, at whatever pace they choose, do make steady, even if slow, progress toward competing their courses and eventually walk across the stage with their college degree in hand. When a student stops out, that is basically takes a break from enrolling in college courses, the likelihood of them returning to college diminishes, and ultimately leading to the unlikelihood that they will earn a college degree. To no surprise, among the reasons for “stopping out,” is due to the inability to find the resources to pay for tuition, fees, books and living expenses.
The Trellis Company (2018) recently conducted a study of students in Texas public community colleges to assess student financial wellness. The results were eye opening. For Lee College, more female students responded to the survey than male students, while the breakout of ethnicity and part-time versus full-time attendance were fairly consistent with our actual student demographics. So what did we learn? The study reaffirmed that there is a clear interplay between student collegiate finances and academic performance, such as retention and graduation. Students experience high levels of stress related to finances and meeting basic needs, which ultimately impacts academic potential.
The study looked at key findings in four areas: Student Financial Security, Student Perceptions of Institutional Support, Student Basic Need Security, and Paying for College and Student Debt. A few of the findings for Student Financial Security were that more than 71 percent of the respondents worry about having enough money to pay for college. More than three quarters of the respondents reported running out of money at least once in the last 12 months. More than half of the students reported that it is important that they support their family while in college. Regarding Student Perceptions of Institutional Support, 42 percent of the respondents stated that their colleges actively work to reduce the financial challenges they face; 61 percent believe that their institution works to make tuition more affordable. With respect to Student Basic Needs Security, food insecurity is quite common among students, while more than half of the respondents showed signs of housing insecurity. Finally, as it relates to paying for College and Student Debt, about half of the respondents reported having more student debt than they had expected; 80 percent reported borrowing a “payday loan” at least once within the last 12 months.
What is Lee College doing to minimize the impact of these student concerns so that students can focus on successfully completing their courses and degrees? Well, we are doing a lot. Of course, as much as we do, there is always much more that needs to be done. The Board of Regents is always cognizant of the impact of proposed tuition and fee increases on students, and as such carefully evaluates the need for such increases and keeps them to a minimum. There are ongoing efforts to minimize the cost of course textbooks, such as offering used books, book rentals, and when appropriate, e-books. The College aggressively seeks funding for students to pay the cost of going to college, such as connecting students to federal resources, like the Pell Grant, scholarships, most of which are funded through the Lee College Foundation (through the generosity of many individual donors as well as corporate donors), offering payment plans, and connecting students to part-time employment, including paid internships with business and industry. Lee College operates a Food Bank, which is supported by the generosity of many area residents and the Houston Food Bank.
Considering how much is being done, there is always more that needs to be done. On behalf of our students, I cannot thank enough those who step forward year after year, individuals, businesses and industry partners, to help our student meet their financial needs. Doing so is an investment in our students, the College, the communities we serve and the future of our society. Lee College is preparing the workers, leaders and citizens of tomorrow. Every dollar spent to make this happen is a dollar that defines not only the student’s future but the future for all of us. Thank you for helping our students Stay the Course!
Dr. Dennis Brown