PACT tuition hikes may stop

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Alabama Postsecondary Chancellor Bradley Byrne said Monday he will ask the state board of education to freeze tuition increases on two-year college students who participate in Alabama’s prepaid college tuition program. It is a move that LBWCC president Dr. Herb Riedel agrees would be the right thing to do.

The Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program (PACT) lost almost half its value from mid-2007 through the end of 2008, as a declining economy chopped the trust fund to just $484 million.

Riedel said 29 students received PACT money at LBWCC during the 2008-09 academic year, and the amount received varies based on a student’s number of credit hours. The average amount received by a student was $1,270. LBWCC has about 1,000 students at its campuses in Andalusia, Opp and Greenville.

“It’s not a large number overall in terms of our students,” Riedel said. “I think the reason is because our demographics are such that many of our students come from families who could not afford to participate in PACT in the first place.

“At the same time, I know that (Byrne) is very sympathetic to the situation of parents and students who are affected by the PACT problems, and that he will do anything in his power to help those students. We’ll also do as much as we can here, locally.”

Byrne’s plan would freeze tuition for the next three years for the almost 2,000 students who participate in PACT and attend the system’s community and technical colleges. The board of education will meet Thurs., March 26, to consider the chancellor’s proposal. Byrne told the Birmingham News on Monday that he expects the board to approve the tuition freeze.

Troy University and Alabama State University have already announced their intentions to waive tuition increases for PACT students for three years. Officials at Auburn University and the University of Alabama told the News earlier this month that their universities are in no position to help financially.

Riedel said Byrne’s proposal would be a great thing for higher education, but does not know how much it would apply to community colleges like LBWCC. Riedel said he does not believe state community colleges have increased tuition “for at least the last four to five years,” and also does not expect any tuition increases in the 2009-10 academic year.

“Many of those decisions are made at the state level,” he said. “But I know that our tuition is not going up this year. I want people to know that, despite having a very economical cost, we provide really good quality as well.

“I think you’ll start to see more students, who had intended to start at a university, instead choose a community college for their first two years of education. I’m very positive about the educational experience that students have here; it kind of eases the transition from high school to university.”