Seniors older than 55 won’t receive need-based scholarships to Gila Community College despite a board member’s proposal Thursday to provide them in the face of budget cuts.
The measure, defeated in a tied vote with one absent board member, ultimately died because of the college’s dismal finances.
Another proposal to allow second year nursing and teaching students to share in $40,000 worth of scholarships each year already available to first year students passed.
In August, the board scaled back senior tuition wavers, previously offered to those over 55, in the wake of budget cuts.
Now, seniors from 55 to 60 pay full tuition, those aged 61 to 65 pay half, and people over 65 pay 25 percent.
Board member Larry Stephenson had proposed setting aside $10,000 annually to help financially strapped seniors afford college classes.
Board member Bob Ashford declared the motion failed after the tied vote. “We have always given and given and given, and maybe that’s part of the reason we’re in the situation we are in,” he said. He said he might consider it once the college’s finances improved.
Member Armida Bittner agreed with Ashford. “We cannot give what we don’t have.” Board member Tom Loeffler fought for the measure saying, “I would feel very disturbed if this board cannot find $5,000 for needy students.”
Member Bernadette Kniffin’s absence caused the tie.
The proposed scholarships would have amounted to $5,000 per semester.
One 63-year-old woman who spoke at the meeting said she lived on food stamps and $694 each month from Social Security. The senior waivers allowed her to take sign language classes, which she greatly enjoyed.
“I really appreciate what I’ve heard this afternoon about staying in budget,” she said. However, she doesn’t have the money to continue the classes. The woman said college officials in Payson urged her to address the board so members could see how reduced waivers affected people.
Stephenson said keeping seniors as students would help keep enrollment high. The college receives state aid based on student enrollment, and seniors unable to attend because of increased tuition could affect funding.
Board members have said 43 percent of the college’s students are senior citizens, and that the waivers played a significant part in driving the college into debt. The school faces an estimated $743,000 shortfall by the end of this fiscal year.
Many students say the 30-percent tuition increase to take effect in January could deter them from enrolling in classes, said Loeffler.
Ashford suggested asking the Gila Foundation for Higher Education if they would provide scholarships. Loeffler said the group offers scholarships, but allows recipients to attend any educational facility they choose.
Ashford also proposed asking Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC, for permission to supply scholarships. EAC is carrying GCC while it runs a deficit.
Stephenson derided that suggestion as “going to see mama first.”
“I would oppose running any policy through EAC,” Stephenson said. Board members have discussed working to change the statute which requires GCC to contract with another institution to offer diplomas. Gila County’s population counts and property valuations fall below legislatively set thresholds, and so the county cannot legally run its own college.
At the August meeting where the board increased tuition and chopped senior tuition waivers, it also agreed to set aside $40,000 each year for students beginning nursing or teaching tracks. Loeffler said Thursday the rationale centered on the need for those types of professionals.
Board members agreed to offer that money to second year students, in addition to first year students, because spending the money had already been agreed upon and the measure solely increased the competitiveness.