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GRCC Board Votes To Raise Tuition

Last week, Grand Rapids Community College trustees voted to raise tuition there by $4 per credit hour. In addition, the Board voted to raise a student activity fee by 50% for part-time students, who previously enjoyed a break if they did not attend classes full-time. The rationale for raising tuition was that the increase, which – of course – was completely unavoidable, was necessary to adjust for inflation, as well as to provide additional services to students.

So, let’s break this down a bit. According to the Kent County Assessor’s Office, the apportionment for the current year will produce tax revenues of $51,837,700 for GRCC. The previous year’s assessment produced $47,732,650. By my math, GRCC received an additional $4.1M, an 8.6% increase in its tax levy.

An 8.6% increase in tax collections is pretty good, given that Michigan law forbids homestead property taxes from rising more than the lesser of the rate of inflation or 5%. In 2022, the rate of inflation was 8.0%, so that means the homestead property tax assessments for 2023 rose by the statutory cap of 5%, and non-homestead property taxes rose even more.

GRCC’s Vice President of Finance and Administration also pointed out that the school is providing additional services to students, and will continue to provide additional services, with tuition being the primary financing vehicle for those improvements. One example she cited was the hiring of a counselor to meet the increased need for mental health services for GRCC students. Realistically, the counseling hire will refill an existing, vacant position, so it’s not truly an expansion of student services, but rather a restoration of services that the college previously provided. What the VP didn’t mention was the hire of an additional administrator at its Lakeshore satellite campuses. (Hey, these administrators don’t pay for themselves.)

Raise tuition, reduce enrollment

Based on the number of credit hours that GRCC has delivered in the recent past, the tuition increase will add somewhere between $900,000 and $950,0000 to GRCC’s bottom line. It’s important to remember that when the Board authorizes a request to raise tuition, it results in enrollment declines – either in the number of people who enroll or the number of credit hours they take. Every tuition hike prices some students out of the classroom.

Currently, GRCC has around 5,100 full time students and about 13,000 part-time students. If you assume that the full-time students take an average of 30 credits per year, the part-time students at GRCC account for 6 credits on average per year, based on the total number of credit hours GRCC delivers. The students most likely to be hurt moves to raise tuition and fees are the part-time students (who appear to average just one class per semester).

So, in the name of inflation, GRCC is going to gouge about $1M more out of its students next year, despite receiving an increase in tax revenues that substantially exceeded the actual inflation rate, and additional revenues from increased Winter enrollment. Absent from the VP’s report is what the college did to cut costs before determining that the tuition increase was truly unavoidable.

The likelihood that the college administration did everything possible to avoid the need to raise tuition is … minimal. At the same time, the likelihood that a $4 per credit hour increase in tuition is going to make college unaffordable for some students is … all but guaranteed.

Community college students can’t be expected to do the heavy lifting when it comes to paying for inflation, administrative hiring, and every other expense that the board approves.

Photo Credit: Usodesita, via Flickr