Sequester cuts hit home at Black River Technical College

POCAHONTAS, AR (KAIT) - A program designed to help low to moderate income people attend college is in jeopardy. At Black River Technical College in Pocahontas, they're being forced to turn students away from their Career Pathways Initiative due to government budget cuts.

For students like Matt Phillips, the Career Pathways Initiative has helped tremendously with school.

"They helped me through the pre-reqs all the way to the LPN program and now they're helping me through the RN program," Phillips told Region 8 News. "Anything from childcare to gas for the LPN program."

It's aid and supplies for college that will in turn, help get students into their career field.

"The whole goal is to get them to school, get them trained, help them get a job so they can better their lives for themselves and their children," program director, Tom Baker told Region 8 News.

Since 2006, BRTC has offered the Pathways Initiative that is funded through the federal, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant.

Students must first apply for a Pell Grant, Baker explained. Then, once those monies are expended, Career Pathways assists with anything from tuition, fees and books to childcare and gas cards.

Baker said the program and the students have excelled for years

"We've had some that have completed, say the LPN program, and came back later to the RN program and couldn't qualify for Pathways because they were making more money than what was allowable for them to be in the program," Baker explained.

Pathways tracks a student's employment retention for a year following completion of a program.

Statistics show that of the 57% of students who were employed once they completed a program in 2011, 89% of them retained that same job one year later.

However, recent government budget cuts mean the Pathways Initiative can now only assist returning Pathway students.

"Last year, we served 408 students. This year, we'll have 200 or less," Baker said. "We would be staying around that 400 if we were able to take on new students. So that tells me there's 200 students that may not be going to college because they don't have that little extra help."

BRTC received a $200,000 budget cut. Not only are they now being forced to turn away students looking to become new Pathway students, they also had to cut two staff positions.

"It's quite disheartening to know the good that we've been able to do over these last eight years and then to know that we're having to stop helping new people that may need that extra helping hand," Baker said.

Though Phillips qualifies as one of the returning Pathway students, he said he's saddened for those who won't get the opportunity he's had.

"There's a lot of people that wouldn't be able to go to college if Career Pathways wasn't in place," Phillips said.

Though the future for the program is uncertain, BRTC's President, Dr. Wayne Hatcher stated on their website: "There is serious doubt that this program will exist two years from now, as we have been informed to expect more funding reductions for the most successful job placement program in Arkansas."

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