Unpaid Student Fees Have Consequences

$10 million in unpaid student fees have accumulated at GCC over a period of ten years, provoking many questions including the impact on funding, collections and faculty salaries.

“It never was a secret,” Drew Sugars, GCC’s Director of Communications and Community Relations told El Vaquero regarding the recent buzz about the huge number. He explained that the conversation about the $10 million of uncollected fees has come up again now because of the Chancellor’s Office’s new Student Centered Funding Formula. The new formula means a change to the previous roughly $5,000 per “full-time equivalent student” (which means a full-time unit load) flat fee to a more complex funding formula that will take into consideration how the school is reaching out to minority students, how many graduate, how many are full-time equivalent students, and various other factors. Schools are unclear how this will affect their funding and are being given until 2022, when the new funding formula goes into effect, to “figure it out.”

According to Sugars, models were run which indicates that by following the new formula, GCC would receive about $3 million a year less than it does now. In order to be fiscally responsible GCC must plan many years ahead and the huge student debt has become a significant factor. “Now with the uncertainty of a changing funding formula, it’s more important to address this,” Sugars said.

GCC has striven to be a welcoming environment, using the “Honor System” regarding student fees and has not pursued deadbeats. California Community Colleges have traditionally been free, or low-cost, to be as accessible as possible and though a new law in California provides for free tuition for the first two years for full-time students and many students qualify for financial aid, grants and scholarships, student debt at GCC has grown to $10 million.

“It seems that as an institution, we stopped demanding that all fees be paid within 5-7 days of a student’s enrollment at a moment when enrollment itself was declining. The idea was that if we removed the financial pressure to pay for their education, more students would seek one,” wrote Academic Senate President Piper Rooney in Chaparral, which is written for GCC employees.

The complex system of statistical number-crunching that will be used to determine the new Student Centered Funding Formula may affect how aggressively GCC will pursue student debt.

Several motions passed at the Academic Senate meeting on Oct. 3, including the recommendation that a task force be formed from members of the Senate, Financial Aid, Admissions and Records, the Student Tuition and Fees Committee and the Office of Fiscal Services to come up with a plan regarding student debt repayment.

Other motions involved sending collection notices and a “two-year pilot of debt recovery from students in order to learn what percentage of students and what demographics of students do not repay their fee,” according to Academic Senate minutes. What the demographics will reveal, and how that information will be used, remains to be seen.

Executive Vice President of Administrative Affairs Dr. Culpepper told the Academic Senate that “between $4.2 and $4.4 million are owed by currently enrolled students. About 60% of those fees are owed by International Students,” according to Chaparral.

Regarding how the massive student debt might potentially affect faculty raises, Sugars stated frankly, “I don’t know. The reality is that there is only so much money available and we can have that discussion as a collective and decide what are our priorities.”

A. Heimer can be reached at [email protected].