Senior citizens over 60 will again receive full tuition waivers at Gila Community College beginning next spring, board members agreed Thursday in a contentious vote that again pitted north against south. Those under 60 will pay full tuition.
The vote preceded a decision to table other tuition-related questions because members said they had no information about the college’s financial health.
“Until we have more information — until we know what we’re up against,” the board shouldn’t discuss whether to change regular tuition or provide scholarships for high school seniors, said member Armida Bittner after she voted to partly reinstate tuition waivers for senior citizens.
Board chairman Bob Ashford added that senior citizens “need this financial assistance to take advantage of the popular programs and classes.”
Board members Tom Loeffler and Larry Stephenson voted against reinstating the waivers.
Loeffler said that almost no other community colleges offer the waivers, and said he wanted more financial information before making a decision.
Stephenson briefly stated his opinion that reinstating the waivers was a “knee-jerk” reaction, before Ashford cut him off.
Last year, the board agreed to charge people 65 and older 25 percent of tuition, and those 60 to 64 half. Previously, everybody over the age of 55 received free tuition.
However, the spring semester’s enrollment figures revealed a 9-percent drop in full-time student enrollment. Previous figures showed the decline occurred entirely among senior citizens. Board members attributed the drop to increased tuition.
“We need to get our enrollment back up,” said Ashford Thursday in support of his proposal.
Previously, Ashford presented the board with five options for changing waivers.
Last month, members tabled the discussion because they didn’t have time to examine the scenarios.
Thursday, the board only discussed the approved plan.
During the meeting, Ashford also refused Loeffler’s request to discuss regular tuition rates before waivers for senior citizens. Loeffler has requested the switch numerous times, and Ashford always declines without asking other board members what they think.
Loeffler argues that any changes to tuition, which the board raised 30 percent last year, would affect waivers.
“As you have a reason for wanting to change (the order), there’s a reason why the agenda is the way it is,” said Ashford.
After the board approved expanding the waivers, Ashford then proposed tabling a debate about whether to hire a board assistant because of a dearth of budget information.
Board members have no idea where the college stands financially other than a promise from EAC that this year’s budget is balanced.
Still, EAC hasn’t said how much money GCC will lose from the enrollment drop.
The state funds community colleges based on full-time enrollment, and so the college could see a net loss despite the tuition hike.