Press "Enter" to skip to content

Community college trustees dishing out tuition hikes

As community college trustees plan for the 2023-24 fiscal year, tuition hikes are seemingly part of the plan. Trustees from around the nation will consider tuition rate hikes to offset increased costs, declining enrollment, and inflation.

In 2022, the average annual inflation rate was 8.0%. That was the highest recorded inflation rate since 1981. Although the January 2023 rate of 6.4% shows that the Fed may be taming inflation, rising costs are expected to hang around in 2023.

Inflation is not the only driver of increased tuition and fees at community colleges. Decreased enrollment and sliding net tuition revenues are also putting pressure on community college budgets. In Michigan, Macomb Community College trustees have already approved a tuition hike of 4.7%. The WCC Administration typically does not ask the trustees to approve tuition rates for the next fiscal year until April.
For the current fiscal year, WCC chose not to raise tuition, but instead raised and renamed an existing fee (the “technology fee” – now known as the “technology infrastructure fee) by $5 per credit hour. The fee increase raised the total cost of attendance by 4.7% to $110 per credit hour.

I’ve written about this fee and others in the past. There is no restriction on how the proceeds from the fee must be spent. So, regardless of what it is called, the fee simply goes into the General Fund and pays for all General Fund expenses.

That’s what makes WCC’s fee structure so disingenuous. It’s another cash grab designed to make those paying it think that they’re getting something out of it.

Community college trustees should insist on budget cuts before tuition increases

The fee increase is even more insidious because it allows WCC’s administration to take advantage of a technicality. WCC can claim that it has kept student tuition level for X years. I’m sure that makes the students feel better. That is, until they get to the fee section of their tuition bill.

There’s no doubt in my mind that WCC students will see a per-credit hour cost increase of some kind for the upcoming fiscal year. The General Fund has been under a lot pressure from the Health and Fitness Center ‘s inability to generate revenue, and from the steady increase in the interest on the Health and Fitness Center’s remaining bond debt.

That’s important to know because every time WCC has increased the cost of attendance by more than $4 at one time, the enrollment has dropped. This year was no exception. The $5 increase in fees took effect this fall; enrollment declined by nearly 2% and the number of credit hours decreased by 1.6%. Enrollment increased marginally for the Winter semester, but the number of credit hours declined by another 1.6% for the Winter semester.

Increasing the cost of attendance makes it harder for students to attend. It extends the amount of time students need to complete degree and certificate programs, and it has a negative impact on graduation rates.

(Yet they persist.)

If you’re wondering what other option they have, here’s a thought. Rather than increasing the cost of attendance by $5 per credit hour, which might raise $1M over the course of a year, the Trustees could strongly encourage the Administration to cut their expenses by .8%. (That would achieve the same thing.) If you can’t cut your expenses by less than 1%, it’s usually because you haven’t tried.

Photo Credit: orangefan_2011, via Flickr