Facing a $630,000 deficit, the Gila Community College board Tuesday altered the school’s tuition schedule for next fall at the same time requiring senior citizens to start paying partial tuition.
The move likely means the board won’t have to lay off any teachers or end programs, although it is unlikely the board will lift a two-year policy requiring staff to take furlough days.
Like most community colleges grappling with dwindling state support, GCC expects a 35 percent cut in aid this upcoming fiscal year on top of the loss of several grants. The looming budget could have been worse Senior Dean Stephen Cullen warned if it were not for a 14.3 percent property tax rate increase producing a 4.1 percent increase in revenue.
Facing a huge shortfall, raising tuition was the only viable solution, the board agreed.
Board members differed over charging seniors.
When GCC took away senior waivers in the spring of 2010, enrollment dropped 30 percent — a loss of 863 students. However, it is unclear what percentage of those dropouts constituted seniors.
Not wanting to drive seniors away this time, the board grappled with how much to charge. Board President Robert Ashford suggested a complete removal of waivers while board member Tom Loeffler said with a tuition adjustment, the college could get away with only charging seniors 60 and older 25 percent of tuition.
Currently, GCC has a complicated tuition structure, where some students pay the highest per-unit rate in the state and other students pay among the lowest.
The district raises one-third of its budget from the $1.4 million in tuition payments.
In years past, GCC charged $84.50 per unit for the first three units, no additional charge for the next three units, and then $84.50 per unit from 7 to 12. After a full-time load of 12 units, extra classes are free.
As a result, tuition tops out at $988 for full-time students. In addition, seniors attend free.
“The current schedule gives an advantage to those taking fewer courses,” said board member Larry Stevenson. “We are accommodating a minority of students.”
Loeffler suggested charging $80 per credit, extending the charge per credit to 16 units and charging seniors 25 percent. This schedule would net an increase of $616,000, almost enough to cover the predicted shortfall. Charging extra for supplies in the arts and science courses could make up for the rest.
“I looked at our shortfall and tried to find a way to cover it without looking at furloughs,” Loeffler said.
Ashford presented a very different tuition schedule. He proposed keeping the current tuition structure in place, but tacking on a 25 percent increase, bringing the cost for one credit hour to $101.
This would mean GCC had the highest cost per credit hour in the state with the next highest cost in Maricopa County at $76.
“We will be discouraging people from coming” if we charge that much, Loeffler said.
With his schedule, Loeffler said the move would have only a modest impact on students, since the majority of full-time academic students in the college get federal Pell Grants, which covers tuition charges.
“Increasing tuition would not affect financially any student working for an associate degree or toward a baccalaureate degree,” he said. “Currently, we are missing Pell Grant funds because our rate for certain credit limits is so low.”
About 20 percent of GCC’s more than 3,464 students are full-timers, most hoping to transfer to a four-year college. Retirees and workers seeking to get credentials, upgrade their skills or take exercise and art classes account for the bulk of students.
Those part-time students could still take four credits for under $400 under Loeffler’s schedule.
Hoping to reach a compromise, the board settled on Loeffler’s schedule and added 10 percent to his rate.
That means it will cost $88 a credit hour with a cap at 12 units.
Full-time students will now pay just over $1,000 a semester, a difference of $68 from the current schedule.
“It is important we do this right away so we can start garnering revenue for next year,” Ashford said.
Senior citizens will pay 25 percent of the normal amount. For the spring 2011 semester, 1,195 seniors were enrolled, making up 35 percent of all students.
The board expects some seniors to drop out once they have to pay.
“We probably have to gear up for some drop in headcount because of our new tuition schedule,” Loeffler said. “However, I believe we made the right decision.”
In addition to a tuition hike, students will also have to cover a $6 one-time data system fee imposed by state lawmakers.
This will save the school an estimated $21,000.
Cullen will also look at classes requiring extra supplies and the board could vote on asking Eastern Arizona College to raise rates for those classes at its next board meeting.
Cullen recently put in for the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grant, which could bring in $2 million to $20 million if approved.
“It is a long shot,” Cullen admitted, “but you don’t know unless you apply.”
Also at Tuesday’s lengthy special meeting, the board set a meeting schedule for the rest of the year. The board will meet the third Thursday of each month at 2:30 p.m.
The board also set a policy that Cullen will present all new programs to the board before they are approved. Formerly, the board approved funding for new programs months after they were already up and running.