Gcc: Bursting At The Seams

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Enrollment at Gila Community College increased 2 percent last year despite a drop in spring enrollment and a recent 30 percent tuition increase, according to figures released during Thursday’s board meeting.

The jump has been especially pronounced on the Payson Campus, with a slew of new classes and facilities that are “bursting at the seams.”

Preliminary figures indicate that districtwide, the college has about 200 more full-time students this semester than the same time last year. The college will release official numbers later this fall.

Payson Campus Dean Pam Butterfield said many of the new students are recent high school graduates and full-time students.

“We’re bursting at the seams with students,” said Butterfield. “We’ve got many closed classes. I feel very positive about the direction of the college and our student enrollment.”

The jump for the full year surprised some since the college announced a 9 percent enrollment drop in the spring compared to the spring before. Board members attributed most of the drop to increasing tuition.

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Kathleen Townsley signs up for a course at Gila Community College. GCC enrollment climbed 2 percent in spite of a 30 percent tuition jump.

However, the college’s full-time enrollment during the 2009-2010 school year totaled 1,051 full-time students, up from 1,028 the year before.

Senior Dean Stephen Cullen proudly announced the numbers to the college’s board, noting they marked an all-time high for the college.

“Gila Community College, as a provisional college, is something to behold and something to be proud of,” said Cullen.

New programs include renewable energy courses in Globe, which have attracted 90 students, and a new dual enrollment animal care program at the college for Payson High School students.

Colleges receive funding based on credit hours, a measure called full-time student equivalency, instead of the total number of students. In 2010, GCC had more than 4,000 students in a simple headcount.

Previously, the college’s board worried the trend of declining enrollment would continue, and members reinstated several months ago tuition waivers for students over 60 in an effort to attract more students. Students under the age of 60 pay full tuition.

Regular tuition, which the board increased by 30 percent last fall, has stayed the same for this semester. In June, the board tabled a discussion about changing the tuition, citing the lack of budget information from Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC.

Numbers Cullen showed last week from selected years illustrated volatile enrollment trends.

In 2002, under EAC, the college’s full-time enrollment neared 1,000.

Then, in 2005, under the lead of Pima Community College, enrollment declined to 108 full-time students.

Former college officials have said that when Pima took over the college, a brief interruption of services impacted enrollment because the community was unsure of the college’s status.

In 2006, when GCC reunited with EAC, full-time enrollment increased to 600 students.

Gila County’s population and tax base fall beneath the state thresholds required to operate a fully accredited community college. Instead, the county operates a provisional college, which must contract with another college to award diplomas.

GCC contracts with EAC, and critics say the contract unfairly wrests all power away from the GCC elected board, essentially rendering them powerless. Critics also say the contract socks taxpayers with an excessive 25 percent overhead fee on all expenditures, including salaries.

The contract prohibits GCC from employing anybody related to providing education.

A task force headed by state Sen. Sylvia Allen that includes two board members and Cullen, among others, is working on legislation that would free GCC and allow it to operate independently.

Allen is expected to introduce the legislation in January.

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