HGTC registration purge creates scramble for classes

sjones@thesunnews.comAugust 21, 2012 

— Horry-Georgetown Technical College did its final purge of fall 2012 registration rolls Monday, less than two full days before today’s beginning of classes.

The purge of students who had registered but not yet paid created a minor melee of some students scrambling to claim spots in previously full classes and others scrambling to reclaim the spots they lost.

Monday’s purge was the third at HGTC since July, and the 596 students deleted Monday night got emails and telephone calls telling them what had happened, messages not all bothered to retrieve.

Some purged students will show up for class today unaware they dropped through the net, said Greg Thompson, HGTC’s associate vice president of student affairs.

The purges used to be once-a-semester things, Thompson said, but have been done several times before each semester the last couple of years so college officials can be sure that all the students who really want an education will have a chance to get it.

But perhaps as important, the purge increases the chance the college will get all the revenue it can.

And at a time when at least some community colleges in South Carolina are seeing their enrollment drop, HGTC feels lucky that its remains steady … every student counts.

The college’s primary mission is education, of course, but with inflation and other uncontrollable cost increases, it needs 3 percent to 5 percent growth in revenue year-to-year to keep the books balanced, HGTC President Neyle Wilson said last week.

That can come through a growth in enrollment or an increase in tuition and other student fees.

The problem is exacerbated because a percentage of new students each year waits until the last moment to try to gain entrance. When that happens there may be too little time between their applications for school and financial aid and the beginning of classes for the money to be in hand by the time teachers call the roll.

“We’ve tried to change behaviors” to get students to begin the process earlier, said Marilyn Fore, HGTC’s senior vice president of academic affairs, “but we’re not being successful because today’s behavior is prompted by students thinking they can get anything, anytime.”

That means that those who wait to try to enroll think their applications can be processed and their financing approved with a couple clicks of a mouse.

The reality is much different.

Applicants must take at least a reading test before the college will even consider their applications. S.C. community colleges require its new students to have at least a sixth-grade reading comprehension, and the only way they can be sure is to test applicants.

Further, applications for financial aid, be it grants or loans, take scrutiny. Many seek assistance through the U.S. government’s Pell Grants, and for many students that process was lengthened this year when the federal Department of Education decided to audit 40 percent of the applications than it had in the past. An audit means the applicant must provide more information. Again, that is something that can take weeks.

The purges are meant not only to give other students a chance to fill newly-opened class seats, Thompson said. It also is designed to nudge the purged students to get their money into the college. It can also help the college identify those students who registered for classes, but decided to go elsewhere.

This year’s purges have affected between 2,000 and 3,000 students, Thompson estimated, some of whom could have been dropped in more than one of the cleansings. He explained that a student who was purged in July could have gone to the college and said that he or she intended to pay up, at which time he or she was returned to the active enrollment list.

If no payment had been received by the second purge, the student was once again dropped.

But each successive purge was smaller than the one before, Thompson said.

On the opposite side of those who were purged, Thompson said, are the students who stay up all night the days the purges are happening.

They continually update their college websites to get the latest list of class seats opened when non-paying students were dropped. If the class is one they need to graduate, they can sign up online for the spot as soon as they see it’s open.

Hundreds of new students were still registering for classes Tuesday, many of whom Thompson expected would be applying for financial aid.

But unlike those who registered before Monday’s purge, they were required to come up with some immediate cash or a valid credit card number to have a seat today.. That means at least the first payment in a three-payment plan the college offers students.

If they subsequently get financial aid, they can use a portion of it to pay themselves back for the up-front payments.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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