KINGMAN - When the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday that Mohave Community College's default rate was under 30 percent, it opened the door to several important events.
First, it allowed the college to continue to receive a variety of federal funding sources for students, from Pell Grants to student loans, instead of resorting to private loans. The college had appealed the education department's original default rate of 31 percent and found out this week it was lowered to 29.3 percent.
"We won't be facing any sanctions that would disallow us from receiving that federal funding this year," said MCC President Michael Kearns. "A default rate of 30 percent or more has serious consequences and we've been struggling to lower ours for several years. Our plan is working and we can take a short breather, but we have to stay focused."
Secondly, it has provided a green light for the Leonard and Gracie Neal Campus in Kingman to proceed with plans to build a multi-purpose building on the 160-acre property. The college will tear down and remove four small modular buildings that were constructed in the 1970s and replace them with a single building housing a variety of offices.
The MCC Governing Board voted last week to hire Jones Studio Inc. of Phoenix to provide architectural services on the new building. The firm will meet with college officials in about a month to discuss the facility, and it will take six months for design and about a year for construction.
The building, which has no estimate of size or cost yet, will be the biggest on campus and should be completed by early 2016, said Kearns. It will include a student library and media center, registration and testing area, classrooms, offices and technology center for staff, and a fitness center.
Kearns said the lower default rate is important to the college because it allows continued growth, both in new students and buildings. Last year, the default rate for the college was 34 percent, but it was appealed down to 32 percent. Two years ago, it came in at 34 percent after an appeal lowered it from 36 percent.
Kearns said federal grants and loans for the college's students are crucial because Mohave County is ranked as the fifth poorest county in the U.S. Also, he said, it is one of the lowest-ranked counties in the nation educationally with 10.6 percent of residents having a college degree compared to 24 percent in the state and nation.
The college's plan to lower the default rate has consisted of locating students through social media and government records who are heading into default and presenting them with options, including lower payments. Kearns said many of the students aren't aware they can avoid default and are relieved to receive help.
"We can't stop defaults because of the shape of the economy, but if we can present alternatives, that helps the students and the college," said Kearns. "The feds are trying to help, too, but it's difficult to fix something that's out of control across the nation."
Kearns said removing the existing modular buildings - numbered 203, 205, 207 and 208-210 - will add to the growing image of a modern college and make it easier to navigate the campus. Kingman has more modular buildings than any of the other three campuses, and they are outdated and not worth the cost of renovating, he said.
Building 204, also in the footprint of the proposed new facility, has already been removed because it had a foul odor that couldn't be located, said Kearns. When the modular building was taken down, a cesspool was discovered underneath it.
"We've done a lot with what we have, but there's a point where you have to invest in new buildings," said Kearns. "We have a commitment to continue on with the buildings. It's part of our overall plan."