Unit Fees at Community Colleges to Jump to $26

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed annual budget includes a fee hike at California community colleges, increasing the per-unit cost from $18 to $26.

The increase is expected to take effect during the fall 2004 semester and would increase the total cost for a full-time student from $270 per semester to $390. The state legislature has yet to approve the proposed budget, but faced with Schwarzenegger’s popularity and a $15 billion deficit, GCC officials expect approval of the fee hike.

“The (state) deficit is so huge that I am pessimistic about blocking a student fee increase,” said Vice President of Instructional Services Steve White. “It is a tax on students.”

White also pointed out that Tuesday’s approval of Proposition 57, which allowed the state to borrow up to $15 billion, should keep more severe cuts from occurring during the 2004-2005 fiscal year.

“Fees are going to go from $11 to $26 in two years?” responded a shocked student, who wished to remain anonymous, when told about the increase. Her friend sitting across the table is receiving financial aid but still expressed concern about the hike. “It does not effect me directly,” said biology major Diana Hernandez, 21. “But for students who are working [to pay for school] it sucks.”

While the fee increase is severe for most students, California still offers among the cheapest junior college tuitions in the nation. In Oregon, for example, the cost per unit is $55.

Some students expressed anger and disappointment at the state government for what they see as an unfair burden on college students. Many students said the extra financial costs would not stop them from attending.

“The people that really want to go to school and get their degree will still do so,” said student James Moreno. “I really believe that.”
The fee increase is the most recent in a string financial burdens faced by California community colleges in past two years and the strain has had a direct of effect on student enrollment.

The California State University and University of California systems have both seen a drop in enrollment as well. The entire California education system has been the victim of a ballooning state budget deficit.

This is the second consecutive year of fee increases at community colleges in California and the third year of budget shortfalls. Over 120 classes were cut during the Spring 2003 semester (98 of which have been reinstated) and the tuition per-unit increased from $11 to $18.
Cuts in funding from the state over the past three years and increased utility and insurance premiums have had a widespread effect on GCC’s budget. There are currently three vacant administrative positions and the school’s staff took a 1 percent pay cut last year.

The supply budget has been cut by 75 percent and the faculty’s travel/conference budget has been slashed by over 80 percent, according to school officials. The administration is facing a financial situation that White describes as “desperate.”

The string of budget shortfalls has caused the administration to adopt a policy against that offered by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, which oversees the state’s 108 campuses. The chancellor’s office recommends that each college keep a reserve fund that represents 5 percent of the total budget. GCC was put on a watch list of 14 other schools that fall below that percentage.

Money in the reserve fund is used in case of mid-year budget cuts and other unforeseeable emergencies. According to White, GCC needs almost $1.5 million more to meet the Chancellor’s Office recommendations.
“Our plan is to make incremental progress in building up our reserve,” said White.

GCC is a priority three, with a reserve fund of 3 to 4 percent of its $61 million budget. Schools such as Compton Community College are listed as priority one with reserve funds less than 2 percent. School’s on the watch list do face any official sanctions or penalties.

White justifies the choice of the administration to shrink the budget as necessary to keep money free for classes. According to White, the Board of Trustees, the ASG and the faculty support the decision.
“What we are facing is the third year of significant budget cuts,” said White. “We took out the easy stuff long ago, we now have some very difficult decisions ahead of us.”

Schwarzenneger’s proposed budget also includes approxiamely $2 billion in cuts to California K-12 education, including community colleges. This translates into almost $2 million in reduced funds to Glendale College.

There are still “very serious problems,” says White but classes are scheduled to be added to the summer and fall semester. He also stressed the importance of applying for financial aid, which waives the per-unit fee.

“I do not want students to be discouraged,” said White. “We can help most students get to school in the fall, money should not be an issue.”