Recently, the WCC Board of Trustees approved a $5-per-credit-hour increase to WCC’s existing fee. The increase raises WCC’s cost of attendance to $110 per credit hour. According to past data, raising the attendance costs significantly year-over-year has a direct and immediate negative impact on enrollment.
In the 2002-03 academic year, tuition at WCC was $54 per credit hour, with a $4 per-credit hour technology fee, making the total per credit cost $58 per credit hour. The following year, the Board of Trustees approved a $6 increase in the cost of tuition. With the technology fee, the per-credit hour cost for in-district students rose by 10.3% to $64 per credit hour.
The impact of that rise in attendance costs was glaring and immediate. Enrollment among male students dropped by more than 25%. Enrollment by female students dropped by more than 31%. The total number of credit hours remained the same. In the 2004-05 academic year, the Board of Trustees held tuition constant but raised the technology fee by 75% to $7 per credit hour. The following year, enrollment among male students dropped again, this time by a more modest 1.67%. Female enrollment increased slightly – by about 1%.
Raising attendance costs can lower revenues
This pattern repeated itself from 2009-2013, as tuition increased by 25%. In the 2009-10 academic year, in-district tuition was $73 per credit hour, with a $7 per credit hour technology fee. The Board approved a $7 per credit hour tuition increase for the 2010-11 academic year. That year, enrollment dropped by almost 3% for male students and 2% for female students. Credit hours dropped by 5%.
The following year, the Board raised tuition by $5 per credit hour. (The technology fee remained the same.) Enrollment among male students dropped by more than 6.7%. Among female students, enrollment dropped by 8.9%. Total credit hours dropped by 10.3%.
The next academic year, 2012-2013, the Board raised tuition by another $4 per credit hour. Enrollment among male students dropped slightly – about 0.5%. Female enrollment dropped by 2%. The total number of credit hours dropped by 4.5%. The pattern here is clear. When the cost of attendance rises by $4 or more per year, enrollment drops, and the number of credits students take also drops.
Last month, the Board of Trustees voted to raise the cost of attendance by $5 per credit hour. If the goal is to increase enrollment, raising the cost of attendance is a poor strategy to accomplish that. In 2010-11, the cost of attendance rose by $7 per credit hour. Every $1 increase in the cost of in-district tuition reduced the total number of credit hours by 2,189.
The following year, tuition increased by $5 per credit hour. This time, each $1 increase in tuition costs reduced the number of credit hours students enrolled in by 6,106. Raising tuition an additional $5 just one year after a $7 tuition increase reduced the amount of tuition revenues. The college lost money by raising tuition.
Raise revenues by lowering expenses
If history is a guide, raising the cost of attendance by $5 per credit hour will virtually guarantee that WCC’s enrollment will decline in the 2022-23 academic year. A hike of this size will cause WCC to lose tuition revenue in the coming fiscal year. At a time when fewer college-age students can discern even a nominal benefit from enrolling in a community college, raising fees by $5 per credit hour was a bonehead move. (Need more money? Try cutting expenses. Pro tip: start at the top.)
Side note to Trustees Hatcher and DeVarti: Raising the “technology fee” by $5 this year, and again next year is the same thing as adding a $10 “infrastructure fee.” If raising attendance costs by 10% over one year is unacceptable, it should be equally unacceptable to raise it by 5% two years in a row.
Photo Credit: Kurtis Garbutt , via Flickr