Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 7, 2013

NMC students say they'll survive tuition hike

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Katie Rafferty tooled into Northwestern Michigan College classes several semesters ago to study auto repair.

“I was going downstate in the Grand Rapids area, but they were so much higher in tuition than NMC,” she said. “That’s why I chose to go to NMC.”

Now she may have to pay 32 percent more for her auto department courses, an increase of several hundred dollars a semester for a full load of classes.

But Rafferty, 24, isn’t deterred. Even at the proposed rate of $111.50 per credit hour plus fees, NMC is still cheaper than Grand Valley State University at $420 per credit hour. Kirtland and Alpena community colleges cost less than NMC’s proposed rate and fees.

Rafferty, who is seeking out scholarships, said she’ll stick with NMC because of its small classes.

“I can grab an instructor and they’re over within five minutes, if not right then. That’s what I like,” she said.

The NMC board will consider the nearly 32 percent tuition hike for the nursing, automotive, and audio-tech programs this month.

Culinary students also will see an increase to $135.65 per credit hour, but in-district students will no longer have to pay course fees. The price for a culinary education widely varies statewide from $71.40 per tuition hour at Oakland Community College to $345 per quarter credit at Baker College.

Wayne Moody, director of NMC’s auto department, said his students will still get a “big bang for their buck.” The department offers small class sizes and top-notch equipment, necessitating subsidies from the general fund of $318,935 in the past three years.

Mike Bouchey, 31, said he will “absolutely” have to make up the higher costs with student loans. He attends college full-time and works full-time as a welder to support a family of four.

“But it’s worth it because NMC is so close to Traverse City.”

Peter Wright, 43, of Benzonia, a father of two, predicts he’ll have to pay $100 a month for 10 years in student loans.

“It doesn’t sound real bad looking at it that way,” he said.

The tuition increase likely won’t dampen demand for NMC’s nursing associate degree program, said Laura Schmidt, director of Nursing and Allied Health.

“We had a huge waiting list,” of 240 students, she said. “It was taking them somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four years before they could start nursing classes because there were so many students trying to get in the program.”

NMC no longer accepts students on the wait list, and will admit future students on a competitive basis, she said.

NMC only accepts 36 new nursing students a semester because clinical classes are comprised of only nine students. NMC subsidized the program with more than $1 million from its general fund over the last three years, according to an NMC report.

Class sizes are tiny because students learn in professional settings, such as the hospital, Schmidt said.

“That’s where the cost is,” Schmidt said. “You have one instructor and you can only put so many students with her because you want to be sure patient safety isn’t compromised.”

Audio technology classes are also small and equipment is cutting-edge,said Jeffrey Cobb, director of music programs.

“Oh lord, it’s expensive ... ,” Cobb said. “But like computers, everything changes every two years. You do your best training on the industry standard as opposed to the last-decade standard.”

Cobb said audio technology students can find jobs working in a wide range of sound-related jobs, but they’re not necessarily highly paid posts.

“But frankly, in the music business, no one has one job; you have several jobs,” he said. “It’s easy to eke out a living in music when you have these kind of skills.”