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2008 December 15 - 12:00 am

NEWS BRIEFS:

  • Report: Poor Pa. Families Pay Dearly To Afford College

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A college education in Pennsylvania takes a major bite out of the income of the state’s poorest families, according to a state Education Department report.

Families making $20,000 or less must pay an average of 73 percent of their annual income for a dependent child to attend a state-owned university without loans, and 37 percent with loans, the report to the State Board of Education said. Both figures reflect the net cost once state and federal grant aid is applied.

For those same families, the cost for attending a community college at the lowest tuition rate amounts to 37 percent without loans and 24 percent with loans.

“That raises questions about what our financial aid policies are in the state and in the country, and whether or not there’s anything we can do to equalize the burden across different income levels,” said Kathleen Shaw, deputy secretary of the department’s Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education.

The report also found that Pennsylvania students graduate from public universities with high debt burdens.

The board requested the report as part of its inquiry into the challenges of paying for rising college costs in Pennsylvania. It is also conducting a telephone survey  on how families pay for college and hopes to make the results available in January, Chairman Joseph Torsella said.

The board also heard testimony from students and college officials during a series of public hearings last month.

“I think we’ve started a conversation,” Torsella said. 

  • Bond Sale Delay Puts La. Projects in Limbo

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Delays continue to keep construction projects for the state’s technical and community college campuses in limbo.

Plans called for the bonds to be sold in the first week of December, with closing scheduled the following week. But the Bond Commission deferred a decision about a requested issuance increase from $185 million to $200 million for the projects at a recent meeting.

Jan Jackson, Louisiana Community and Technical College System senior vice president of finance and administration said the bond sales could move forward in early 2009.

The projects include an $8 million new campus for St. Martinville and $6 million in repairs to the Gulf Area campus in Abbeville. The two projects were part of a massive $151 million facilities improvement plan approved by the Legislature in 2007.

  • Wyo. College Plans To Offer Online Degrees For First Time

POWELL, Wyo. (AP) — Northwest College in Powell plans to offer online degrees soon, pending permission from the Higher Learning Commission.

The college’s Board of Trustees approved its request to apply to the learning commission to offer three trial associate degrees online. Two of those degrees will be general studies and social sciences, and the other hasn’t been chosen yet.

Northwest College already offers many courses over the Internet, but it isn’t accredited to offer entire degrees.

  • Wife of Former Ala. President Pleads Guilty  To 3 Charges

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — The wife of a former Shelton State Community College president has pleaded guilty to three federal wire fraud counts and will forfeit more than $156,700 in pay and benefits reaped from a phony job she got at the Alabama Fire College.

Melinda Kay Umphrey, 59, pleaded guilty to the charges during a hearing in Huntsville before U.S. District Court Judge Lynwood Smith. Her sentencing is scheduled for April 16.

Her plea agreement had been announced in August.

Her husband, Thomas Umphrey, was president at Shelton State from 1988 until he retired in 2000. Prosecutors said she was fraudulently employed at the fire college at Shelton State from June 2001 to December 2003 with an annual salary of about $40,000.

She is one of more than a dozen people with ties to the two-year college system to enter guilty pleas or be convicted or indicted in a probe of the system.

  • Mines School in South Dakota Termed Best Investment

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — The head of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology says it may be the best college investment in the nation — based on a comparison of total costs and graduates’ average starting salaries.

College President Robert Wharton adds that the school may be the only one in the nation where starting salaries for grads are equivalent to the cost of a four-year degree.

Wharton says the School of Mines offers degrees in engineering, science and technology where graduates have 99 percent job-placement rates and annual starting salaries averaging $56,000.

  • W. Va. College Professor Wins Statewide Teaching Award

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — A mathematics professor at New River Community and Technical College has been named West Virginia’s 2008 Professor of the Year.

Lucie T. Refsland received the award at a luncheon in Washington, D.C. The award was announced by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

More than 50 of Refsland's  former students are now certified as middle school math teachers.

  • Casino Donates $250,000 in Furniture to Idaho College 

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) — The Coeur d’Alene Tribe casino has given a community college in northern Idaho $250,000 in previously used office furniture.

Coeur d’Alene Casino spokesman Bob Bostwick says crews unloaded eight moving vans of office furniture at a North Idaho College storage facility. The casino had been storing the furniture in Spokane, Wash., since last year.

Bostwick says the couches, leather chairs, coffee tables and lamps were put into storage after the casino remodeled its office spaces and purchased new furniture.

  • Laramie CCC Agrees To Assist Its Foundation 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Responding to stock market losses, Laramie County Community College has agreed to help support the college’s fundraising foundation for the first six months of next year.

College trustees voted 4-2 to pay $167,500 to cover operational costs of the Laramie County Community College Foundation. The money will come from college reserve accounts.

A memo sent to college trustees says the foundation has seen a decline in the value of its assets because of the falling stock market.

Foundation President Bill Scribner said that keeping the foundation operating will allow it to raise $800,000 in matching funds from the state.

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