For the second month in a row, the Gila Community College Board (GCC) has punted on deciding whether to raise tuition, despite vigorous support from senior dean Stephen Cullen.
“It is my recommendation that we have a slight increase in the tuition,” said Cullen to the board at its Feb. 20 meeting, “This will serve as the benchmark and we can evaluate the affect on enrollment. It has been extremely difficult and time consuming for our staff to have two different tuition schedules.”
Cullen also told the board that increasing tuition would serve as a benchmark and bring GCC tuition more in line with other college districts.
“We have the lowest tuition in the state,” he said.
Back in July of 2013, when the board cut tuition, no staff or board members opposed the move, except Tom Loeffler, who resigned because of the haphazard decision-making process. Larry Stephenson recused himself from the vote.
At the recent meeting, Stephenson questioned Susan Gallo about the loss of more than $300,000 to the budget mostly due to the waivers for seniors.
“Under expenses, under the Gila-Pueblo we are (negative) $312,000, under the ‘scholarship transfers out’ line item. This implies these are an expense.”
Gallo agreed. “This is how much we have budgeted against our senior wavers,” said Gallo, “Under the ‘scholarship transfers out’ goes against our revenue…actually it’s against EAC’s financials.”
“’Scholarship transfer out’, that is the amount of revenue we have forgone,” said Stephenson.
Back in July, board members from Globe advocated lowering tuition for students and reinstating free tuition for seniors because they wanted to increase enrollment.
They hoped the rise in enrollment would draw more state support, even if the students didn’t pay tuition.
Sure enough, enrollment jumped — but so far the state Full Time Equivalent Student (FTSE) payments have not.
“There is a two-year delay in paying FTSE,” said Tom Ritland, Joint Legislative Budget Committee Community College analyst.
Ritland said FTSE is still calculated on a full semester credit load. In other words, every 12 units counts as one FTSE — regardless of how many students take those 12 units.
If 12 students take one credit each in a semester that brings in the same amount of state aid as one student taking 12 credits.
GCC’s payments this year reflect enrollment two years ago when enrollment plunged in the wake of a big tuition increase and a short-lived decision to eliminate free tuition for seniors.
For this budget, GCC will receive $370,700 in state funding, a fraction of what other community colleges see. Ironically, the value of the tuition waivers amounts to about $364,000.
Cullen assured the board increasing tuition would not affect enrollment.
“We saw a direct correlation between increased tuition and a drop in enrollment (in 2012 and 2013),” said Cullen, “This (increasing tuition) will not have an affect on that. I can guarantee that.”
All board members opted to delay the decision.
“First of all, it was noted repeatedly that changing our tuition schedules has affected enrollment,” said Stephenson, “The current tuition schedule has a generous waver for those 55 and older – to the tune of now approaching $400,000 per year… The current tuition schedule is inequitable, it has younger students subsidizing older students and full-time substituting the part-time students. I have not and will not support this type of tuition schedule. It will bring in sorely needed revenue, but it is compounding problems.”
Board member Armida Bitner requested a delay as well.
“I’m torn as Larry is,” said Bitner, “We do yo-yo…we have responded that we need money. I don’t know where I stand on this. I understand the need for staff to come back on the level of EAC…I’d like to think on this just about more. Can we set this aside and come back to this at next months meeting?”
A motion passed to delay the discussion for two months to find two new board members and bring them up to speed.