A popular program that allowed Johnson County residents 55 and over to take courses for free at Johnson County Community College has ended.
By ROXIE HAMMILL
Special to The Star
Senior citizens still will be able to take classes at a discount, but beginning with spring semester, it will no longer be free, college officials say. Instead, they’ll pay $16 a credit hour, or $48 for the typical three-credit course. And the new age to be eligible will be 60.
The discount will be available to all residents of that age, where in the past it was only for members of the college’s Brown and Gold Club, who paid a $10 yearly membership.
The Brown and Gold Club, a staple at the college for 15 years, has itself been shifted over to be administered by the Coming of Age/Shepherd’s Center Central, a Kansas City organization offering a variety of programs and services for the aging population.
The changes are part of the college’s efforts to keep costs contained while conforming with state rules, said Dennis Day, vice president of student success and engagement at the college.
The state requires the college to charge something for all classes offered, he said. In the past, JCCC met that requirement by paying its general fund with money from the student activity fees. But that was becoming unsustainable, he said.
Last year, the free tuition cost $330,000 from the total $2 million activity fee budget. Officials predicted that if the practice continued, the activity fee fund, which is used for events for all students, could face a shortfall of $100,000.
For the past 15 years, eligible residents who joined the Brown and Gold Club got an array of benefits, including discounted tuition on non-credit classes, discounted tickets to cultural and entertainment events and some events planned exclusively for club members. They also could take classes for credit for free if there was space available the day before the class started.
About 650 people took the free courses each semester, according to the college. Under the new arrangement, people who want to take the discounted classes need not join a club, but they will still have to wait until the day before class starts to sign up, said Julie Haas, spokeswoman for the school. The next chance to sign up is Jan. 10.
Officials at JCCC hope the potential students still will see it as a good deal. Day pointed out that at $16, tuition is still deeply discounted. Classes normally cost $85 per credit hour, or $255 for a three-hour course. And the Shepherd’s Center will have more to offer in the way of programs than the college did, he said.
The college will save about $100,000 in administrative costs by sending the club to Shepherd’s Center, Day said.
The Brown and Gold Club will continue to offer programs, outings and day trips to Johnson County residents through the Shepherd’s Center for the $10 yearly fee, although it may be opened up to others in the metro area later on, said Cheryl Brown Henderson, who works with the Johnson County arm of the center.
The school has gotten some negative feedback from people who will miss the free classes, Day said. “But when you explain it, they get it. I think most members have understood,” he said.
Roy Busdiecker, retired U.S. Army colonel from Overland Park, was one of the Brown and Gold members surprised by the college’s decision.
Busdiecker has taken higher level German language courses five times and has been an active member of Brown and Gold since 2009.
“The most unfortunate thing about the whole process is that the decision was made very rapidly and without much public notice,” he said.
Still, he probably will continue to take the classes at the discounted rate as he works toward fluency in the language. The discount is still a good benefit, compared to full price, he said.
But the change has caused “an awful lot of anxiety” among people he knows who have taken the free courses. Busdiecker said he worries that the fee will open the door for more increases to come.
“I would hope this would be a temporary measure,” he said. “There’s a tendency for these things to grow once they become a source of revenue.”
But, “I have this nagging concern that this will lead to future cost increases that will not be as palatable.”