Johnston Co. schools looking at textbook costs for students taking college courses

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) — Hundreds of Johnston County high school students getting a head start on college might soon face an extra burden commonly found in higher education — paying for their own textbooks.

The Johnston County Public Schools Board of Education is reviewing the costs of its Career and College Promise program, which lets juniors and seniors take classes at the local community college.

JCPS estimates total expenses of $681,280 for textbooks and Johnston Community College fees and other costs. Tuition is free through a state program.

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Overall student enrollment in the county is growing and so is the participation in Career and College Promise. There are 1,307 high school students taking classes at JCC, which is about one-third of the school’s entire enrollment.

JCPS estimates 1,400 to 1,500 of its students will take part in CCP for the fall 2018 semester.

“We think it’s a great opportunity for our high school students to get a jump on college preparation,” JCC president David Johnson said.

“They can actually simultaneously take high school courses and complete their high school diploma while getting a jump on college credits. In some cases, depending on the enrollment in early college or middle college, we’ll have students actually complete the associate degree actually before they complete their high school diploma.”

Johnston Community College has a bookstore on campus, but it is owned and operated by Barnes & Noble, not the school. Johnson said the college has no control over the price of textbooks, which he said are sometimes exorbitantly expensive.

Those high prices could price out the public school system as more books are needed for more students, according to JCPS communications director Crystal Roberts.

“The average cost per textbook can be upwards of $200, and we allow our students to take up to four classes. So the board, just being proactive in terms of growth and budgeting, asked CCP to look into the cost or the options regarding paying for the textbooks, because Johnston County Public Schools heretofore has paid for those textbooks,” Roberts said.

The Board of Education is considering several options, which included but are not limited to having students pay JCC fees fully or in part, having students pay $100 per semester to take any classes, or having some students pay for their books.

County administrators looked at how some other school systems handle books for their college classes.

An option which could cut JCPS costs in half follows a method used by Wayne County Schools where students who qualify for free or reduced lunches receive free textbooks while those who pay for meals would pay for the books. Wayne County Schools spokesperson Ken Derksen said Friday that the school system decided to provide books for all of its students this fall, but that may not be the case for the spring semester.

Wake County is also providing textbooks for its students taking college classes this semester, after requiring some students to buy books in the past.

JCC president Johnson said there is not an option for the college to provide textbooks to the high school students.

“I think that would be setting a strong precedent that we wouldn’t want to continue into the future,” Johnson said.

“We don’t waive any other textbook fees for any of our other students, and we consider these high school, CCP students, college students,” Johnson added.

The JCPS board estimates saving $116,000 a year if the college waives the $41.50 fees each semester, but Johnson said JCC already waives about half of its fees for JCPS students.

He said the college waives its Campus Access, Parking and Security fee for high school students, which is $4 per credit hour. Juniors and seniors who take online classes or don’t come to campus also don’t have to pay the standard $25.50 activity fee, while all students pay a $16 tech fee.

A key concern is rising costs that could keep kids out of classes they’d otherwise attend, but may be unable to afford if required to buy books.

Roberts said the schools don’t want that to happen.

“We are very interested in ensuring that there are no barriers for our students to have the resources that they need to take the classes that they’d like to take, and that they need to take, for graduation and for their careers,” she said.

“We want to pull out all of the stops for our students, and so even though this program has become expensive, it is a program that is part of the fabric of Johnston County Public Schools,” Roberts added. “We don’t want to pull any opportunity away from our students, so we will do what we can and all that we can to make sure that this program is affordable and accessible to all of our students.”

The school board plans to make a decision on textbooks in the next few months.

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