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Tuition increase preferable to budget cuts

Heartland Community College, in Normal, IL plans to increase its tuition and fees for next year by $8 per credit hour. The increase represents a $5 increase per credit hour for tuition, and a $3 increase in the “student life” fee. The move will raise the cost of attendance to $182 per credit hour for in-district students.

HCC President Keith Cornille alleged that some community colleges are looking at a tuition increase that is much higher than HCC’s. However, HCC is among the highest cost community colleges in the nation. Including the latest increase, HCC has raised its student tuition by more than 15% over the past five years.

The rationale for the increase included projected salary increases for HCC staff; the impact of inflation; and a potential cut in funding related to Illinois’ current taxing structure.

While many community colleges are considering a tuition increase, HCC is the only one I’ve personally seen to date that adds up to an $8 increase. For a student attending school full-time, the increase represents an additional $120 per semester.

The student government supported the increase, saying that students would prefer a gradual increase each year over long gaps with no increases, followed by sudden, significant increases. If I were a student, I would prefer cost cutting measures over tuition increases any day of the week.

Based on HCC’s most recent credit hour enrollment figures the move will likely increase revenues by about $700,000. It will also likely decrease enrollment. (Enrollment decreased last year by 10% when the college increased its tuition and fees by $5.) It also raises the question of whether the increase in revenues, offset by the decrease in enrollment is worth the effort.

Tuition increase should be last resort

Before community college trustees blindly accept an increase in student tuition and fees, they should at least inquire about whether the college administration could achieve the same effective revenue increases by cutting the budget, rather than laying the burden of things like staff salary increases and countering inflation on students.

As it turns out, students are also managing the impact of inflation on their own purchases, and they don’t have the ability to arbitrarily increase their salaries to cover it. It’s hard to imagine that a community college could not find $700,000 of waste to trim out of a multi-million dollar annual budget.

It’s also hard to understand why a tuition increase is a first reaction to the need for additional capital rather than a last resort.

Photo Credit: M. Appelman, via Flickr