College Facing State Aid Cuts

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With a $244,000 cut in state aid on a $5-million budget, Gila Community College may have to raise tuition, cut programs or ask the county for money.

Last year, the state cut GCC’s funding by $185,000. This year, the college lost another $57,000, for a total of $244,000. It has, however, requested $2 million worth of federal stimulus money for projects.

“They’re choking the budget daylights out of us,” Senior Dean Stephen Cullen said at a recent board meeting.

The college already receives less than half the per-student funding as other community colleges. Because Gila County falls below threshold levels for population and assessed property valuation, it is not allowed to operate its own community college, and it receives less funding than other colleges.

This fiscal year, GCC was set to receive $946 per full-time student. However, Cullen estimates that, after budget cuts, the college will receive roughly $870 per full-time student.

Before budget cuts, students at Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC, received $2,100 per full-time student, according to figures from GCC. The average statewide, before budget cuts, was $1,400.

“We didn’t have much to start with,” Cullen said.

At a recent meeting, board members contemplated asking the county for money. Chairman Bob Ashford said the school was originally created so the county could stop paying $1.2 million each year in out-of-county tuition for residents taking classes at EAC.

The legislature has yet to release next year’s budget, and Cullen said he doesn’t know how lawmakers will handle the finances of community colleges.

Another unknown is if the college’s stimulus proposal will attract interest from lawmakers. The $2 million request includes $251,000 to expand the nursing program, $1.2 million for new buildings on the Payson campus, $510,000 for new buildings on Globe’s campus, and $627,000 to jump-start a renewable and sustainable energy program.

The college board recently approved sending a letter of support to legislators.

“If you keep an item in front of legislators, they’re more likely to act positively,” said board member Tom Loeffler.

Despite budget cuts, the college grew 27 percent over the past year. It now has 944 full-time students, 333 of them at Payson.

Cullen laments that funding has not kept pace with enrollment growth.

“We’re really not getting paid for the increase in enrollment that we boast of,” he said. “At some point, something’s got to give.”

If the college doesn’t find more money, it may have to slash programs. Already, officials are contemplating raising tuition $30 per semester, up from $690 for 12 credits.

Cullen said officials at EAC must approve any proposed increase, which he said they may not do. And Cullen said the increase would not compensate for budget cuts.

He added that GCC is still a bargain. His son will pay $6,000 for one semester’s classes at Arizona State University next year after tuition increases, he said.

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