Barton Community College has met all criteria for accreditation, Myrna Perkins told the BCC Board of Trustees Tuesday.
“Monday we received a final report we’ve waited on,” she said, sharing the news. “There were no sanctions, no concerns.”
The college’s next on-site visit from the Higher Learning Commission is five years away, according to Perkins, who is Barton’s chief accreditation officer and director of financial aid.
At the same meeting, Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman said the college’s status as a nationally certified Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Education Center has also been approved for the next five years. Kurt Teal, Barton’s Dean of Fort Riley Technical Education and Military Outreach, gave a presentation on that program. In the past three years, Barton’s OSHA Education Center has taught 239 classes to 3,570 students.
Student loan default
Perkins was originally on Tuesday’s agenda to address a different topic: the default rate on student loans. Assistant Director of Financial Aid Whitney Asher joined Perkins for this presentation.
The latest information shows BCC’s three-year default rate on student loans at 11.6 percent, with 56 borrowers in default and 479 in repayment. That is a marked improvement from the 2014-2015 financial aid year, when the default rate was 23.1 percent.
Perkins said the federal government becomes concerned when an institution’s default rate approaches 25 percent.
The new rate is close to the national average of 11.5 percent and better than the national average for two-year, public institutions, which is 18.3 percent. It’s also better than the 12.7 percent average for peer institutions in Kansas, although several are lower. Hutchinson Community College had the lowest default rate on the Kansas list at 5.9 percent. Allen County Community College was highest at 21.1 percent.
Asked why the rate is so low at Hutchinson, Perkins did not have an answer.
“A big reason students default is they don’t complete their programs,” she said. Students who fail to complete their program of study may not enter the career field they went to school for, so they are unable or unwilling to repay their loans.
Asher described steps Barton has taken since the 2014-2015 report to lower its default rate. For two years the college used SALT, a program offered by American Student Assistance that helps borrowers repay student debt. Then, as the company prepared to raise its rates, Barton staff felt they had learned enough from SALT to improve their own performance. They started with better notifications and other communication with students.
“We also moved up our exit counseling,” Asher said.
From September 2016 to August 2017 the financial aid office made 688 telephone calls to delinquent borrowers. “We’re calling them and encouraging them to get into a manageable repayment plan,” she said.
Administrators agreed that students sometimes borrow more than they should and wind up with more debt than is necessary.
“The students decide how much money they want (to borrow) and we’re held accountable when they decided not to pay,” Heilman said.