Fewer senior citizens enrolled in Gila Community College this spring, and board members attribute the 26 percent decline in full-time enrollment to increased tuition.
The decrease reflects numbers from last spring to this spring.
Overall, the college now has the equivalent of 750 full-time students for the spring semester. However, enrollment for all age groups except for those over 50 is increasing.
“I’m extremely upset about the whole situation,” said board chairman Bob Ashford.
He has asked Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC, to reveal how much additional revenue the 30 percent tuition increase generated.
Ashford speculated that although the school’s finances might improve temporarily from the added income, the enrollment drop could later hurt the college.
“Down the road, that’s going to nip us in the rear with state aid,” he said.
Board members agreed to put the topic on the agenda for every meeting until they receive concrete information from EAC.
Payson’s campus saw an 11 percent drop in full-time enrollment, down down to the equivalent of 301 students. In Globe, 36 percent fewer full-time students are attending, down to 361 students.
Generally, enrollment growth occurred among people ages 18 to 29 and among people in their 40s. More people in their 30s are continuing to take classes, but the growth is under 1 percent. Eighteen and 19-year-olds represent the most quickly growing student population.
Despite losing 14 percent, those over 50 still account for the college’s largest demographic.
Educators watch the full-time equivalent of students more closely than headcount because the state funds education based on the number of credit hours taken. The school’s total headcount this spring is down 29 percent to 2,100.
The enrollment decline means the college will eventually receive about $250,000 less in state aid.
In 2009, tuition wavers cost the school $342,000 to provide.
GCC receives a miniscule amount of state aid compared to other community colleges.
In 2011, the college should receive $775,000, about $750 per full-time student. Meanwhile, EAC could receive $9,000 per student in total state aid.
EAC runs GCC because Gila County’s tax base and population fall below legislative limits for running a community college. EAC also falls beneath these limits, but was grandfathered into the law.
Although GCC is the smallest community college in the state, it has been growing the fastest. From 2008 to 2009, GCC saw a 26 percent increase in enrollment.
In August, the board increased tuition by 30 percent and reduced wavers for senior citizens. Now, people up to 60 years of age pay full tuition, those aged 61 to 64 pay half, and those over 65 pay 25 percent.
The changes were supposed to raise money to solve a one-time estimated $2 million budget gap.
EAC officials subsequently reduced the number to $743,000, however, some estimates call for the school to have a surplus after the various budget saving measures.
GCC board members have yet to receive solid financial figures illuminating how the shortfall occurred, and how the changes enacted have changed the picture.
“We need more and better data,” said board member Larry Stephenson.
Local resident Chris Tilley said she spoke with several seniors who didn’t mind the extra cost.
“Maybe I’m talking to all the rich people. I don’t know.”