After lowering tuition less than a year ago, Gila Community College (GCC) will now consider raising it — except for seniors, who can still attend for free.
GCC Dean Stephen Cullen on Jan. 16 strongly recommended the college raise its rates to match rates charged at Eastern Arizona College (EAC), which administers the provisional GCC district under the terms of a contract.
“EAC has voted to increase their tuition ... I recommend we increase our tuition — that would bring us in line with EAC,” said Cullen. “Having two different tuition schedules is difficult on our staff. If we do not (increase tuition) we will have the lowest tuition in Arizona.”
In 2011, GCC raised its tuition rates and eliminated free tuition for seniors. Enrollment dropped sharply, shifting the college from among the state’s fastest-growing to one of the few reporting enrollment declines.
Alarmed at the decline, GCC lowered its tuition in July 2013 and restored free tuition for seniors.
In the process, GCC reportedly went from having the state’s highest tuition rates to perhaps the lowest.
Then-board-member Tom Loeffler was so frustrated with the board’s seemingly improvisational decision-making about tuition that he resigned his seat in protest.
Gila County Superintendent of Schools Linda O’Dell has still not found a new board member to serve the term that expires in December.
In 2012, GCC charged $106 per unit, compared to EAC’s $80, Maricopa’s $76, and Pima’s $63. The reduction dropped tuition to about $85 per unit.
At the January meeting, the board decided to put Cullen’s recommendation for an increase on hold until its Feb. 13 meeting.
“Let’s think about it and talk about it another meeting,” said newly elected board president Sam Moorhead.
“I would suggest August of 2017,” said Larry Stephenson with a flippant tone.
Then Stephenson got serious and said as part of the terms of its contract with EAC, GCC must have the same tuition schedule.
Yet, Stephenson recognized that GCC has not followed the contract since it lowered its fees in July of 2013.
“It’s (the lowering of fees was) technically outside of the contract,” he said, “I like the idea we were asserting our independence as GCC not EAC.”
Due to restrictive state rules, GCC is one of two provisional community colleges in the state. This means the district must contract with EAC to provide its accreditation. EAC actually employs most of the GCC staff and faculty and mostly handles the budget, with reports to the GCC board on where things stand. EAC collects a 25 percent surcharge on everything GCC spends to cover its costs in providing the accreditation and administrative services.
The GCC board has struggled to get figures on the impact of tuition increases and decreases.
So far, according to monthly financial reports, GCC has remained in the black despite lowering its tuition and resuming free tuition for seniors. In part, that’s because enrollment rose when tuition fell.