Since 2009, the six Gila Community College (GCC) campuses have seen a 52 percent drop in enrollment at all age and credit levels.
The Payson campus has suffered badly, especially when it comes to students taking just one class. Officials speculate that the decline here may stem in part from the decision to eliminate free tuition for seniors in 2010.
The number of seniors taking classes at all the campuses dropped from 1,116 in 2009 to 589 in 2013. Oddly enough, the biggest decline came in the 50-64 age group, which mostly didn’t get free tuition. Systemwide, the number of students in that group dropped from 1,162 in 2009 to just 359 in 2012.
The youngest groups showed the least decline. For instance, the number of students younger than 18 —mostly dual-enrolled high school students — dropped from 611 to 528. The number in the 18-19 group dropped from 385 to 300.
Interestingly, the number of full-time students dropped for three years — but bounced up again in 2013. Systemwide, the number of students taking more than 12 units went from 791 in 2009 all the way down to 525 in 2012 before rebounding to 598 in 2013.
The Payson Roundup received detailed enrollment numbers from Eastern Arizona College (EAC) for each of the six campuses, including Payson, Globe, San Carlos, Winkelman, Roosevelt and Pine.
“Sometimes an area such as Pine, wants one class so we’ll hold a class in the library for them,” said Board Member Tom Loeffler. Most students take classes in Globe and Payson.
Overall, the six GCC locations have lost about 2,000 students during the past four years.
On the Payson campus, the number of students has declined from 2,086 in 2009 to 974 in 2013. On the Globe campus, the student head count has dropped from 2,181 to 1,486. The San Carlos campus has gone from 282 to 154, according to the EAC numbers.
Enrollment at the Payson campus dropped 15 percent in 2010, 23 percent in 2011 and 9 percent in 2012.
The enrollment analysis helps answer questions that have come up in the year-long board conversation regarding tuition change.
Board President Larry Stephenson and Loeffler in Payson would like to see the tuition fee schedule changed to reflect how other colleges and universities charge by the credit hour. The three board members from Globe argue that charging on a per-unit basis will drive away even more students.
Currently, GCC charges by the credit hour until a student reaches two credits. From two to six credits, the price does not change. Above six units, a student again pays by the credit. That means students can essentially take the first two classes for the price of one.
Under the current tuition schedule, full-time students pay more than any community college student in Arizona, said Loeffler.
“Gila County is the poorest county in Arizona and has the highest tuition — it makes no sense,” said Loeffler.
GCC is also one of only two provisional college districts in the state. That means it gets much less money from the state than other rural community colleges. It must also pay up to 25 percent of its budget to EAC, which administers the college and provides accreditation. That makes GCC more heavily reliant on tuition.
Stephenson and Loeffler would like to support more full-time students through the tuition fee schedule change. They believe a break in full-time tuition would bring more full-time students.
Currently, full-time students account for just 22 percent of the students systemwide.
However, even under the existing system, full-time students are the only group that increased in numbers over the past two years. All categories of part-time students show a big drop in numbers.
The biggest decline in enrollment has come among students taking up to two credit hours, which often includes the people older than 60. The number of seniors dropped sharply after 2010 when the board eliminated free tuition for seniors.
“In the spring of 2010, we started charging for seniors,” said Loeffler.
The Payson campus has seen the second biggest drop, behind Winkelman — which peaked at 87 students.
Both Stephenson and Loeffler want to help full-time students get through their education in four years, with an efficient transfer to the university. They argue a tuition structure that encourages students to take a full-time load and finish as soon as possible will save money for students in the long run.