Lone Vote Foils Tuition Increase

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Fittingly enough, the electricity went out during the fitful “raise the tuition” discussion at the Gila Community College (GCC) board meeting on March 27. The board needed four different communication devices to figure out how to resume the discussion.

A message perhaps? Board member Larry Stephenson hopes so. He opposes any increase in the tuition. Without his vote, the tuition schedule cannot change on a board missing two members.

Yet, Dean of GCC Stephen Cullen tried once again to convince the board to match Eastern Arizona College’s rate.

“I have recommended the board adopt EAC’s (Eastern Arizona College) tuition, it would generate a $146,000,” said Cullen, “It would also help our staff regarding paperwork. I recommend we stay with the EAC tuition schedule.”

EAC raised its tuition schedule recently. Cullen wants GCC to move in lock step, although the local college has had a different salary schedule from EAC for several years. EAC also gets millions in state aid denied to GCC as a provisional community college.

The most recent tuition disparity occurred when Sam Moor­head, with support from Armida Bittner and then-board-member Robert Ashford, lowered tuition below the EAC rate in July of 2013. The move prompted northern Gila County board member Tom Loeffler to resign, citing the board’s impromptu decision-making. After a nine-month wait, John Zilisch will finally replace him at the next board meeting.

At last week’s meeting, Cullen clearly had the support of both of the southern board members.

“I believe we should stay with the EAC tuition schedule,” said Bittner to support Cullen.

“I’m advocating we do what EAC does … I know in the past there has been departure and that did not work out so well,” said Moorhead. “I’d also like to point out that EAC is the oldest community college in the state — they have been at it for 125 years. They seem to know what to do with tuition schedules.”

Board member Larry Stephenson strongly disagreed.

“I was disappointed; we had asked for an alternative to the EAC schedule that was proposed at the last meeting and none have been offered,” said Stephenson. “They (EAC) receives a tremendous amount of equalization aid, (that) the million or two they get for tuition is not much. They do not rely on tuition. I feel no compulsion to follow their tuition schedule. We should set the tuition schedule that is right for Gila County.”

Stephenson’s consistent assertion is that because of senior waivers, the youngest students subsidize the older, often retired, students.

Stephenson’s no vote killed the tuition discussion at this meeting.

However, after the meeting concluded, he said he expects to see the tuition increase discussion back on the agenda — especially with new member Zilisch joining in April.

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